Meadows Museum exhibit uses 3-D imagery to explore Chinese cave temples

Standing AvalokiteshvaraA new exhibit at SMU’s Meadows Museum is using 3-D technology to virtually restore a majestic sixth-century Chinese Buddhist cave temple.

Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan, which runs through Jan. 8, 2012, includes a video immersion into one of the largest stone temples carved into the mountains of northern China. The exhibit also includes ancient sculptural masterpieces from the caves.

The 11 Buddhist cave temples in China’s Hebei Province represent the most significant artistic achievement of the short-lived Northern Qi dynasty (550-577). The manmade caves of Xiangtangshan (prounounced shahng-tahng-shahn) once featured large-scale Buddhas, divine attendant figures and crouching monsters carved into the cave walls and sculpted from quarried stone that was set into place.

When the remote caves were rediscovered in the early 20th century, however, many of the sculptures and carvings had been removed and sold to dealers, collectors and museums. This exhibit, compiled from collections around the world, represents the first time the sculptures and carvings have been exhibited together.

An additional 100 items from the caves, now in institutions and collections worldwide, have been digitally captured with hundreds of overlapping scans to create the life-sized virtual cave that is the centerpiece of the exhibit. Through video and still images, visitors will see the sculptures as they once appeared in their original locations inside the caves.

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(Right, the exhibit includes this sixth-century Standing Avalokiteshvara from the Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtangshan, China. The limestone sculpture with lacquer-like coating is on loan from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.)