Medieval Chinese Buddhist cave temple sites—complexes of caves carved into mountainsides or rocky riverbanks as religious shrines—are important repositories of religious sculptural art. Unfortunately, many currently exist in severely damaged condition.
The Xiangtangshan Caves Project began in 2004 with multifaceted research and information gathering—studying the historical site and historical texts, locating sculptures taken from the caves, and combining that with recording the sculptures and caves and with digital imaging including digital photography, and 3D scanning. This has enabled the project to digitally and theoretically reconstruct the former appearance and cultural and religious significance of the caves.
The results of this collaborative project have been groundbreaking in the use of digital imaging and creating of 3D models of sculptures on the project website, and for museum exhibition (see https://xts.uchicago.edu). An innovative exhibition, Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtanshan, that traveled in the U.S. from 2010–2013, combined actual sculptures from the sixth-century cave shrines and digital installations (see exhibition catalog and accompanying book).
An addendum to the project digitized the historical engraved stone inscriptions at Xiangtangshan (see https://xts-inscriptions.uchicago.edu).With collaboration of the Taiyuan University of Technology School of Art and the Fengfeng Cultural and Travel Bureau, the project is being extended to include 3D scanning of the caves and virtual restoration of the caves in combination with digital 3D models of the sculptures in collections outside China.