Four manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, with Samantabhadra and Manjushri, a painting on silk

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang dynasty, dated 5th year of Xiantong (AD 864)

The four manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, in the upper register are almost identical, though there is some variation in their haloes and their Indian-style costume. Each figure is identified by an inscription in the cartouche to his right. The second from the left indicates the devotion of the chief donor, a minor official named Tang, to the 'eleven-headed' Avalokiteshvara.

At the next level, Samantabhadra, the special patron of the followers of the Lotus Sutra and Manjushri, the bodhisattva of Wisdom, are riding their respective mounts, the elephant and the lion. Their entourage comprises other bodhisattvas in flowing Chinese-style robes carrying three-tiered canopies and a dark-skinned Indian groom leading the mount.

Cartouches identify the figures at the base of the painting (the single monk and three laymen on the right, and the two nuns and two women on the left) as a family of donors. They flank the inscription which records their dedication of the painting 'First, on behalf of the present emperor; second, on behalf of his envoy ... third, on behalf of his departed parents and all his family .... May they [escape] both earthly disasters and obstacles to salvation. Xiantong 5th year [AD 864].'

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More information


M. Aurel Stein, Serindia: detailed report of e, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1921)

R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Ste-2, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

A. Waley, A catalogue of paintings recov (London, 1931)

R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Height: 1407.000 mm
Width: 970.000 mm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919.1-1.05


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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