Of the three great grotto complexes in China – Magao, Yungang, Longmen – the latter represents the peak of sculpture during the Tang Dynasty, and contain the most classical of the cave statues.
The caves were fist excavated around the late 5th century, and about 30% of the 1,400 caves date from the Northern Wei Dynasty and 60% from the Tang Dynasty.
Besides around 100,000 statues, they are also a huge repository for stelae, with around two and a half thousand inscriptions from the period.
One of the most interesting things about the caves is that it is believed the largest and most well-known of the statues were ordered by Empress Wu Zetian, and the Buddha has her likeness.
This is so on more than one of the statues, certainly the Vairocana, which looks very matronly, but also the Maitreya, as Wu Zetian was believed to be an incarnation of the future Buddha.
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