Gongxian Buddhist Caves are situated 2.5 kilometers northwest of Gongxian in Henan province. While excavated in the late Northern Wei Dynasty, they were regarded to represent the highest achievement of the carving art from the Northern Wei Dynasty to the Northern Dynasty. Gongxian Buddhist Caves reach the first peak in the Chinese grotto carving history together with Longmen Grotto in Ruoyang of Henan province and Yungang Grotto in Datong of Shanxi province.
There are now existed five big grottos, three statues carved on cliffs, about 1,000 niches for Buddha and 238 cliffside statues with niches. It experienced the changes from the Northern Wei Dynasty to the Song Dynasty. The whole style is similar to that of the Longmen Grotto. However, Gongxian Buddhist Caves are relatively small and the overall artistic level of them is thrown into the shade by the Longmen Grotto even though there are some precious works of art.
Most of the statues look peaceful with clothes of simple patterns. Relief sculptures in the caves are mainly about worshiping Buddha, apsaras, mythological animals, Buddhist stories and so on. They are also the comparatively intact relief sculptures of the Northern Wei Dynasty that are extant, playing an important role even in the sculpture art at that time. The fresco named "the picture of the emperor and empress worshipping Buddh" in the first cave is the most delicate one. The emperor is standing in the east with 60 attendants, while the empress is in the west with 30 maids. In the fresco, the nobles are elegant and the attendants are scrubby, reflecting the rigid stratification which is commonly seen in the paintings and the sculptures in ancient China. The exquisite relief sculptures on the ceilings are well protected and are considered to be a characteristic of the Gongxian Buddhist Caves. The ceiling of the third cave is the relief apsaras, in which the figures are flying in the sky decorated with auspicious clouds, and their appearance and clothing are carved elaborately. They have never been seen in other Buddhist caves.
Gongxian Buddhist Caves provide important real objects for the research on the history of the carving art in Buddhist caves and can shock you with its strong historical atmosphere.