How Buddhism Changed Korean Art: A Look at Buddhist Paintings

Buddhism has played a significant role in shaping Korea and its culture, as well as Korean art – particularly in the realm of painting. The influence of Buddhist thought and iconography can be seen in many traditional Korean paintings, which often depict religious figures and themes. In this article, we will explore the ways in which Buddhism changed Korean art, with a particular focus on Buddhist paintings.

Emergence of Buddhist painting in Korea

First introduced to Korea in the fourth century CE, Buddhism quickly became an important part of Korean society and culture. Buddhist paintings are one of the most noticeable ways in which Buddhism has influenced Korean art over the ages. These paintings were created to depict Buddhist themes and iconography, and often included images of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, and other important religious figures.

Over time, the style and content of Buddhist paintings in Korea evolved, reflecting changes in Buddhist thought and practice. In the Goryeo period, Buddhist paintings became more complex and multi-layered, with multiple figures and scenes depicted in a single painting. This reflected the growing complexity of Buddhist thought and practice in Korea during this period.

The Seokguram Grotto and the Bogwangjeon mural

One of the most famous works of Korean Buddhist painting is the Seokguram Grotto, located in Gyeongju. This grotto, created in the eighth century, features a large statue of the Buddha surrounded by intricate and detailed depictions of other Buddhist figures and themes. The grotto is considered one of the finest examples of Buddhist art in Korea and is a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Another famous work of Korean Buddhist painting is the Bogwangjeon mural in Seoul. This mural, dating back to the Joseon period, depicts the Buddha and other religious figures in a serene and peaceful landscape. The painting is notable for its use of color and its intricate depictions of Buddhist iconography.

These paintings are not only beautiful works of art, but also important cultural and historical artifacts that reflect the deep connection between Korean society and Buddhism. By exploring Korean Buddhist painting, we can gain a deeper understanding of its beauty, meaning, and significance.