One of the most eye catching artifacts of the museum, Balhae collection are the clay Buddhist figurines. Excavated from a temple site in Donggyongsong, they are around 10 cm tall and were made, using a mould, from clay and then fired.
The Buddha figurines are seated cross legged on a lotus flower pedestal, surrounded by a mandorla, and have a warm smile on which brings their faces alive.
The figurines can be classified into 5 different types according to the draperies they wear and the position of their hands: 1) those with both hands hidden in their drapery, with the hem of the drapery pulled back to the left side; 2) those with drapery covering their shoulders and their hands clasped in front; 3) those wearing a pancho-like drapery with ‘U’ shaped folds and their hands covered by the drapery; 4) those with drapery covering their shoulders and their hands clasped in front, with the hem of the drapery pulled back to the left side; and 5) those with both hands put together, so that both thumbs and middle fingers meet.
These Bodhisattva figurines came from the same mould and are identical. They all have a tear-shaped (boat-shaped) mandorla encircling their heads and are wearing flower crowns which have a miniature Buddha statue set in them, identifying them as Kwanum Bodhisattvas.
The Bodhisattvas have round faces with chubby cheeks, and wear beaded necklaces. They stand on a lotus pedestal with their right hand raised to the breast, with the palm outwards, and their left hand holding the drapery. The drapery are layered and fall to either side, making ‘U’ shaped folds. The heads of the figurines are rather large and disproportionate to their bodies.
Little is known about when these Buddha figurines might have been made, but stylistically, they show the influence of Tang sculpture and so can tentatively be dated to the 8th-9th century. However, compared to the Tang and Unified Silla sculptures of the time, they seem to show some archaic elements. For example, the third type of Buddha figurine is very similar to the Chinese Seated Buddha with Dhyana Mudra sculptures of 4-5th century, which were in turn imitating the early Gandhara sculptures of India.
The Bodhisattva figurines, with their disproportionately large heads, tear-shaped (boat-shaped) mandorlas and layered drapery, are stylistically similar to the Chinese Bodhisattva sculptures of the Northen Qi, Northern Jhou to Sui period. This kind of stylistically archaic tendency can also be identified in the Balhae