Paradise of Shakyamuni, with illustrations of episodes from the Baoen Sutra, ink and colours on silk

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang dynasty, early 9th century AD

In this Pure Land, or Paradise painting, Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, with his hands in the vitarka-mudra (gesture of preaching), sits between two bodhisattvas. A dancer and an orchestra perform before him. Another group sits below them. The Buddha has the sun and the moon on his robes, the cosmological emblems of Mount Shumeru. The scene is probably intended to represent Shakyamuni's cosmic aspect as expounded in the Lotus Sutra. Two mythical creatures standing on golden islands, the double-headed jiva-jiva and the kalavinka, flank this second group. A row of donors are shown at the base of the painting.

Along both sides of the painting a sequence of episodes tells the story of Prince Siddhartha from the Baoen-jing, the 'Sutra of Requiting Blessings Received'. This is a jataka about Shakyamuni's previous incarnation. Prince Siddhartha and his parents flee their palace upon hearing the murderous intent of a treacherous minister. When their provisions run out, Siddhartha offers his own flesh to his parents. After his parents have each taken a piece, Siddhartha is left by the roadside. A hungry lion appears, and the prince offers his final piece of flesh to the creature. The lion turns out to be the god Indra, who restores him to strength and wholeness.

This painting is a good example of the ways in which sutras were illustrated at Dunhuang. The elegant flowing lines and uncluttered composition of this painting suggest a date in the early ninth century AD.

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More information


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

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)

J. Giès, M. Cohen and others, Sérinde, Terre de Bouddha : Di (Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1995)


Height: 168.000 cm
Width: 121.600 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919.1-1.01


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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