Height: 31.000 cm
Length: 127.000 cm
Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein
Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.76
Sketches for illustrations to the Vimalakirtinirdesha Sutra, ink and colours on paper
From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu
Tang Dynasty, early 10th century AD
Practice sketches for wall paintings
This long strip comprises three sheets of paper pasted together. Two of these were originally blank on both sides while the central piece bears a draft of a dated letter on one side, which according to the latest research is most likely to correspond to AD 914. A sketch has been made on one of the blank sides for an illustration of the Vimalakirtinirdesha Sutra.
written in India, this
Vimalakirti is commonly shown with a fan in his hand that he moves rhythmically to emphasise the main points of his argument. He is here shown in his sick-bed, where he was visited by many people and supernatural beings, most importantly, Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, who is shown on the back of the sketch. In front of Vimalakirti's bed is the bodhisattva who brings fragrant rice that pours out of a bowl miraculously without ceasing.
The motifs and compositions of this simple sketch can be directly compared to murals in the Mogao caves from the same period, where the story of Vimalakirti remained popular throughout the tenth century, and was often shown on the two sides of a cave entrance. This may explain why the composition here is shown in two independent sections.
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)