A Study on the Placement of Buddhist Temple Mural Paintings from Late Joseon Dynasty in Gyeongsang Province
Because Buddhist temple mural paintings maintain the location of the works and their production, they serve as crucial data that can accurately provide vyuha (decorative, 莊嚴) intentions of the corresponding Buddhist sanctum at the time of its construction. As a result of analyzing the placement of murals centering on Buddhist temples in Gyeongsang Province where most abundant works have been preserved to this day, it was confirmed that the method of mural placements changed according to the vertical and horizontal construction of the architecture and the direction of the building.
First, the wall built vertically in the building was utilized as a way to express the vertical ranks of sacred Buddhist images. The representative of this style is the Buddhist painting by Amitabha (阿彌陀說法圖) found in the west wall of the Daegwangjeon in the Sinheungsa temple in Yangsan, south Gyeongsang Province. The painting divides the long vertical wall into three parts and featured, from bottom and up, the painting of Multiple Deities (Sinjungdo, 神衆圖), the painting of Bodhisattva (Bosaldo, 菩薩道) and the painting of Buddha Triad (Samjondo, 三尊圖) as they naturally expressed the differentiated rank of the sacred images. And, the painting of Buddha(如來圖) or the painting of Bodhisattava painted as bracket-wall paintings(包壁畵) were not used to merely decorate the margin but functioned as an important element to reflect the vertical ranks of sacred images and the nature of the Buddhist temple.
If the placement of wall paintings according to the vertical structure of the Buddhist temple connoted the ranks of sacred images, the horizontal structure was related to sacred images of equal status or the arrangement of Buddhist paintings consisting of various epic-style scenes. The arrangement of murals painted along the horizontal wall spaces were, depending on the theme, showed various styles, as it went from left to right or right to left, or at times it followed the Somoksik(昭穆式) style, or the arrangement used in Confucian rituals. What’s interesting was: in case of the mural painting in the Yeongsanjeon in the Tongdosa temple, the order of storytelling in the wall painting depicting Sakyamuni Buddha’s whereabouts and the wall painting depicting Disciples’ whereabouts was reversed. Through such a change of left and right in the arrangement, it showed that a method of differentiating the ranks of sacred images did exist. The direction of wall spaces according to the direction of the Buddhist temple also showed changes in the placement of sacred deities related to defense, such as Medicine Buddha(藥師佛), Amitabha(阿彌陀佛) or Four Buddhist Guardians(四天王). The painting of Medicine Buddha and the painting of Amitabha in the east-facing Yaksajeon in the Tondosa temple and Daeungjeon in the Beomeosa temple were placed in the southern and the northern wall respectively due to limited wall space. This phenomenon coincided with the rule in which when defense-related sacred images were moved from right directions to in-between directions, they were moved counter- clockwise. Conclusively, the two paintings that have gained special attention due to their peculiar placement of Four Buddhist Guardians - the Bonghwangmun (鳳凰門) gate in the Sutasa temple in Hongcheon and the painting of Four Buddhist Guardians in Myeongbujeon in the Daeseungsa temple in Mungyeong - were the result of them being in the west-facing Buddhist temples.