Kshitigarbha with the Ten Kings of Hell, ink and colours on silk

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang Dynasty, late 9th - early 10th century AD

This painting shows in detail the Chinese Buddhist concept of the judgement of the soul after death. By the late ninth century AD, the bodhisattva Kshitigarbha had come to be regarded as having powers to rescue souls from undesirable forms of rebirth. The apocryphal Sutra of the Ten Kings describes the ten spheres through which a soul must pass on its way to rebirth. It was believed that each was presided over by a king as shown here.

A painting of this kind would have been commissioned in order to help the donor and his family to gain Kshitigarba's assistance through this long judgement process.

Kshitigarbha is shown seated on a rock in the centre of the painting. He is flanked by the Ten Kings of Hell, each behind a desk with handscrolls on them, and with two attendants. The lower section is filled with donor figures. The most interesting scenes are shown just below Kshitigarbha: the priest Daoming, accompanied by a lion, is represented next to a judgement scene; a man wearing a cangue and led by an ox-headed jailer is confronted with a huge mirror that reflects his sin, the slaying of an ox.

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More information


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

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


Height: 91.000 cm
Width: 65.500 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.23


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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