Clay Relief Tile with an Image of a Buddha Triad
Some Buddhist images were molded onto clay surfaces and then fired. The technique entered Japan via Tang-dynasty China, and there is thought to have been a boom in the production of this type of Buddhist image, primarily in the Kinki region, from the latter half of the 7th century to the first half of the 8th century. Buddhist images of this kind were set into walls like tiles to adorn temple interiors and are also believed to have been placed in miniature shrines. Nail holes can be observed in some, while others can retain traces of pigment or gold leaf. These extravagant wall decorations must have been stunning.
While Buddhist images of this kind are commonly flat, they can be classified into square ones and “flame-shaped” ones with tapered tops. The Buddhist figures depicted may be single figures, groups of three, or arrangements of multiple small figures. These kinds of Buddhist images were presumably placed in Buddhist halls or other sites to suit their roles based on their shapes, sizes, and designs. They reflect the style of Tang Buddhist art of the time, with thin robes and rounded bodies.
Because many of them are recovered from the ruins of abandoned temples, most have been buried in earth for a long period of time or been scorched by fire, and are no longer fully intact. Comparing Buddhist images of this kind from different regions, however, has revealed some to be made from the same mold, or to be copies made using molds created by pressing a complete work into clay. Comparing similar examples is one way of appreciating this type of Buddhist image.