Faces from the Mercy of Buddha
Buddhism originated in India, passing through China, came to the Korean peninsula in the period of the Three Kingdoms. But Korean Buddhism developed uniquely (without keeping its original state as in India and China) in the Korean cultural environment and unique racial characteristics. Buddhist art on Buddhist doctrine and faith was developed in Korean culture, not merely imitating foreign Buddhism. Many Buddhist holy statues and portraits, the representative products of Buddhist Art, have been made in Korea. As Buddhism settled in Korea, Buddhist arts reflected the lives and images of the Korean.
The statue is a religious ceremonial object symbolizing Buddhist discipline and faith. The purpose of a Buddhist statue is to explain the Buddhist discipline and enlighten mankind, and the god of Buddhism was expressed as statue shaped after a human body. The smile of Budda with gentle shaped eyes , nose, mouth and shape of face shows mercy, a Buddhist discipline.
The sculptures made in each country reflect indirectly the unique facial feature and expression of each region or nation. So Korean sculptures have Korean faces expressed on them. The small sculptures made of earth have round and happy-looking faces: smiling childlike, innocently silent all around the face, and chubby, soft cheeks. Seo- san rock statue of three Buddhas has quadrate faces, wide-open eyes, open noses and innocent smiles on faintly rising lips. This warm smile is called "the Smile of Baekje", of which seeing it, we feel a warm-heart and affection. All these faces express our nation's naive love of nature.
A more complete skill of Buddhist sculpture made possible the principle image of the Sokkuram Cave Temple. The ideal face of Buddha could be made, in which we can find sublimity, in the perfect feature of eyebrows, eyes, nose and lips. At the same time, the sculptures had our actual facial character certainly expressed, rather than sublimely. Most of the faces were small and flat, having narrowly lain eyes and exaggeratedly high cheek-bones. Though the excellence of sculpture decreased, the sculpture reflected more of our nation's actual faces as this kind of tendency became stronger.
The Buddhist portraits were condensed illustrations of the concept of Buddhist belief. Altar portraits of Buddha and the Sutras' contents, which were mostly hung on the wall, consisted of the main streams in Korean Buddhist picture arts. Therefore they portrayed Buddhist faith, and they became, naturally, the object of Buddhist faith. For these reasons the faces in the portraits are majestic or merciful.
Kamrotanghwa, Sweet dew altar portrait of Buddha is a remarkable achievement in the history of Buddhist arts. It was in the later era of Chosun dynasty that the landscapes and customs of Korea were expressed for the first time. In the upper center of the exhibited portrait are seated seven Buddhas (Sakyamuni) and on the lower side are monks who offer all sorts of foods and hold a Buddhist service for the dead. In the lower part are many scenes of real life: faces which are (even though not beautiful or graceful), common, honest, happy, pleased, and faces showing the difficulty and agony of life.