23 May 2014
By Baek Byung-yeul
Many remember that there was a huge controversy over the Cultural Administration Heritage’s (CHA) decision to loan the Maitreya in Meditation, the country’s most famous Buddhist statue, to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) last year.
Nevertheless, some Korean expected that the seventh century gilt-bronze Buddhist statue would wow the audience at the Met’s “Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom” exhibition, which was held from November to February in New York, displaying artifacts of the Korean Peninsula’s ancient Silla Kingdom (B.C. 57-A.D. 935).
The biggest highlight was the cast-iron Buddhist statue, believed to be made between the late 7th and 10th century of the Unified Silla Kingdom (668-935) period, Korea’s first unified country.
Measuring 1.5 meters in height, the Buddhist statue, discovered at Bowon Temple site in Seosan, South Chungcheong Province, captivated New Yorkers with its generous smile, broad shoulders, narrow waist and long legs. The Met called it, “one of the best examples of this style in Korea from the late 8th to the 10th century.”
Making its comeback, the iron-seated Buddhist statue is now on display at the National Museum of Korea (NMK) in Seoul, which displays more than 13,000 cultural assets of Korea, at its recently reopened Unified Silla exhibition hall after a month-long renovation process.
“Starting from renovating the prehistory galley in 2011, the NMK has been endeavoring to reform its galleries exhibiting ancient relics, and we have added the acclaimed iron Buddhist statue while repairing the Unified Silla gallery,” said an official of the NMK.
For that reason, the museum exhibits the statue in a separate room at the center of the exhibition hall.
The official explained that the iron statue is regarded as “one of the most precious Silla Buddhist relics along with Seokuram Grotto in Bulguk Temple in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, designated as the No. 24 National Treasure.”
Including 30 more artifacts, a total of 100 cultural heritages known to have been made during the Unified Silla Kingdom period are displayed.
“We have put more focus on Buddhist art of that period when Buddhism was promoted as the national religion,” the official said.
While the first half of the exhibition concentrates on Buddhist artifacts, the latter half of the exhibition hall displays relics, portraying life of the elite class.
A gilt-bronze incense burner, excavated from the Mireuk Temple site in Iksan, North Jeolla Province, and silver-plated reliquary that was used to contain relics of reverend monks or aristocrats are other must-sees.
The exhibition runs permanently. Admission is free. The museum is located near exit 4 of Ichon Station, subway line 4 and the Jungang Line. For more information, call (02) 2077-9000 or visit www.museum.go.kr.