Paradise of Maitreya, ink and colours on silk

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Late Tang or early Five Dynasties, late 9th - early 10th century AD

The subject of this complex painting can be identified from inscriptions from the Mile xiasheng jing ('Sutra of Maitreya's Birth'), as the Paradise of Maitreya, the future Buddha. At present, Maitreya is still a bodhisattva who presides over Tusita Heaven until the time comes for his earthly rebirth and subsequent attainment of Buddhahood.

The central figure of Maitreya sits in a courtyard with two bodhisattvas, two disciple monks representing youth and maturity and two Guardian Kings, Virupaksha with a sword and Vaishravana with the banner. Along either side of the borders are two dharmapalas or Law Guardians, another two Buddhas attended by pairs of bodhisattvas. In front of Maitreya four musicians and a dancer perform and human and celestial beings make floral offerings.

The scenes at the top of the painting - of merrymaking, farming and people at worship - symbolize the peace and prosperity that Maitreya will bring. At the bottom, the ordination rite of head-shaving is being carried out on a couple of noble birth. Next to them, two altar tables laden with lavish gifts stand either side of a canopied throne. This represents the conversions which Maitreya will bring about.

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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-1, vol. 2 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

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: 1387.000 mm
Width: 1160.000 mm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919.1-1.011


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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