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Mural Paintings in Yeongsanjeon Hall of Tongdosa Temple, Yangsan

양산 통도사 영산전 벽화 ( 梁山 通度寺 靈山殿 壁畵 )

Heritage Search Detail
Classification Treasure
Name of Cultural Properties Mural Paintings in Yeongsanjeon Hall of Tongdosa Temple, Yangsan
Quantity 52
Designated Date 2011.04.29
Address Tongdosa Temple 108, Tongdosa-ro, Habuk-myeon, Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do

The murals in Yeongsanjeon Hall of Tongdosa Temple, a large group of murals on richly-varied themes, are rightfully considered to be masterpieces of late Joseon temple mural painting. The murals in Yeongsanjeon Hall are not just painted on walls proper, but also on exposed beams and other surrounding structural pieces. Seventeen of exterior wall murals of Yeongsanjeon Hall have survived to the present, although many of them are too damaged to clearly make out the images represented. Inside the building, there are fifty-two murals in number of wall panels, and fifty murals in number of scenes depicted, as the scene from the “Vision of the Bejeweled Stupa” of the Saddharmapundarika Sutra (The Lotus Sutra) on the western wall, occupies three adjoining wall panels. All forty-eight wall panels, except the scene from the “Vision of the Bejeweled Stupa” of the Saddharmapundarika Sutra and the painting featuring dragons and clouds, placed behind the Buddha statues, represent scenes from Seokssi wollyu eunghwa sajeok (Life and Activities of Sakyamuni Buddha Incarnate). These murals inside Yeongsanjeon Hall were painted, according to the information carved on a wooden tablet, in 1715 by fourteen monk painters including Chongan. Meanwhile, although there is a record indicating that the ornamental painting (dancheong) of Yeongsanjeon was redone in 1792, the murals show no traces of having been retouched. The examination of the fragments fallen off the murals also shows a single paint player. The indoor murals, therefore, appear to have been painted during the three year period between 1714 and 1716 during the renovation of Yeongsanjeon Hall. The entire eastern wall, except one wall panel representing the image of dragons amid clouds, is devoted to scenes from the ‘Life and Activities of Sakyamuni Buddha Incarnate.’ Scenes from the ‘Life and Activities of Sakyamuni Buddha Incarnate’ are also represented on the northern and southern walls, and on the section of the western wall, excluding the panels representing the ‘Vision of the Bejeweled Stupa’ and the scene of the assembly at a sermon. The northern and southern walls are divided vertically into several panels by columnar brackets, then divided again horizontally by the purlin between two bracket sets, into upper and lower halves. There are therefore, twelve murals in the upper-level panels of the southern wall, and twelve others in the lower-level panels. In the northern wall, meanwhile, there are nine murals at the upper level, and nine others at the lower level. In the western wall, scenes from the ‘Life and Activities of Sakyamuni Buddha Incarnate’ are painted on two rectangular upper-level panels, while the central panel is devoted to the “Vision of the Bejeweled Stupa” and two low-level panels to the image of Buddha’s retinue. Most upper panels, located above the purlins, feature scenes from the story of Sakyamuni Buddha’s life, told in the 1st and 2nd volumes of the ‘Life and Activities of Sakyamuni Buddha Incarnate,’ while the lower panels on the north and south walls display scenes from the accounts of the lives of ancient monks, told in the 3rd volume. The Vision of the Bejeweled Stupa, the only surviving mural on this theme in Korea, depicts the story in which when Sakyamuni Buddha gave a sermon on the Vulture Peak, a stupa of Prabhutaratna (Buddha of Abundant Treasures) rose from the ground, moved by the sermon, and Sakyamuni entered the stupa and sat next to the Buddha of Abundant Treasures. Figures in this mural are rendered in elegant brushwork and are meticulously depicted. The composition is outstanding, and the color tone is soft yet solemn. As for the murals on scenes from the ‘Life and Activities of Sakyamuni Buddha Incarnate,’ twenty-five scenes, painted on the rectangular upper wall panels above the purlins are all related to the life of Sakyamuni Buddha. Meanwhile, the ones below them, in the lower wall panels, are from the lives of famous monks. This arrangement in which Buddha-related images are placed above those related to monks is probably meant as a reflection of the hierarchical relationship between the two. Judging from the brushwork, style of depiction of figures and colors, these murals appear to have been painted around the same time as the Vision of the Bejeweled Stupa mural. The Sakyamuni-related scenes among the forty-eight murals on the Life and Activities of Sakyamuni Buddha Incarnate are much more varied iconographically than the eight scenes that are most frequently depicted in paintings of the genre known as “palsangdo (Paintings of the Eight Great Events from Sakyamuni Buddha’s Life).” Each scene is, furthermore, accompanied by a title; which is very helpful for their iconographic understanding. The murals of Yeongsanjeon Hall are very different from other early 17th-century Buddhist paintings in several aspects, including the dominance of soft mid-tone colors, detailed depiction of figures and fluid and uninterrupted brushstrokes and the well-balanced composition. Meanwhile, gathering from information provided in the 1716 record on the renovation of Cheonwangmun Gate and other repair records of Tongdosa Temple, the murals appear to have been painted in conjunction with a series of reconstruction works done between 1714 and 1716, after Yeongsanjeon Hall was destroyed in a fire, in 1713. These murals of high artistic merit are also rich in religious feeling and are great mirrors of stylistic leanings in Buddhist painting and more particularly in Buddhist mural painting of the early 18th century.