painting / banner / 繪畫 / 幡
Painted banner showing three scenes from the Life of the Buddha, set in a beautifully detailed landscape. The episodes illustrate Śākyamuni's farewell to his groom, Chandaka, and his horse, Kanthaka; the shaving of Śākyamuni's head; and his life of austerities. Blank cartouches on alternate sides of the scenes. Ink and colours on silk.
- Painted in: China
- Found/Acquired: Qian Fo Dong, Ch.lv.0012 (from bundle Ch.lv at Cave 17 at Ch’ien Fo Tung (pinyin: Qian Fo Dong))
- (Asia,China,Gansu (province),Dunhuang,Qian Fo Dong (Caves of the Thousand Buddhas))
- Excavated/Findspot: 千佛洞
- Height: 58.5 centimetres
- Width: 18.5 centimetres
This banner, almost perfectly preserved in spite of the fact that all its accessories are lost, is the pair to a banner in New Delhi, showing the Great Departure and King Suddhodana’s subsequent examination of the women and gaolers (Ch.lv. 0011, Stein, Desert Cathay, vol. Ⅱ, Pl.Ⅵ). The subjects of the British Museum banner follow immediately after these episodes, and represent the Farewell, the Shaving of Sākyamuni’s head, and his Life of Austerities. All these scenes are set in an orderly landscape of exceptional completeness and great beauty. The three episodes are shown in succession from the top downwards, but the landscape is course built up from the bottom, where Sākyamuni is shown in meditation on a rock, clad only in a red dhoti, his arms and upper body naked and already emaciated.
The scene is set on a green slope, with groups of small trees and steep valleys on either side. The outer contours are drawn in ink, with ink wash and orange wash helping to accent the recesses. This space is closed by a thick diagonal beyond which lies another flat plateau, edged on the left by a strong zig-zag series of banks, and overhung on the right by a cliff wholly executed in ink and ink washes. The enclosed space so defined is closed off at the rear by a triangular hill crowned with flowering trees, and on the left by the blank cartouche, originally coloured yellow, through which a white ground now appears. The symmetrical slopes of the hill open up to form a ridge leading to the top, and beyond this appear clouds.
The farewell scene at the top again takes place on a plateau, this time marked by a shallow zig-zag bank running across the picture. Sākyamuni is seated on the same rock as in the central scene, but here it is seen from the left. Chandaka and Kanthaka in front of him kneel beneath a double or triple layer of steep green tree-clad slopes, undercut by fissured cliffs. To the right, the flat ground opens out, with trees and gentle slopes, to a stretch of water, distant blue hills and piled-up clouds.
This one painting thus combines most of the possible arrangements of major landscape motifs. In particular the most vivid impression is of the mode later known to Guo Xi 郭熙 as shenyuan深遠, “deep distance”, with a high cliff to one side allowing a view across a flat area into the far distance. It is a highly successful and uniquely Chinese formula, naturally used to great advantage to form much larger narrtive sequences in landscape on the walls of the cave chapels.
As to the date, although it is tempting to go back to the eighth century by reason of the high artistic standard and such details as the flowering trees, perhaps a safer clue is provided by a detail such as the elegantly tied and twisting white sash of the attendant divinity in the hair-cutting scene; compare the sashes of the Bodhisattvas at each side of a paradise such as in Pls. 9-8 and 9-9. A mid-ninth century date thus seems to be possible, although an earlier one should not be excluded.Zwalf 1985
This banner shows, from the top downwards, the Prince's farewell to his horse and groom, and the shaving of his head as he takes up the religious life. The landscape, of exceptional completeness and great beauty, is built up from the bottom, where Siddhārtha is shown in meditation on a rock. His body is emaciated and birds have built a nest on his head during his period of austerity. Further scenes from the Buddha's life were depicted on separate banners: each hung from a triangular headpiece and was completed by tail streamers and a weighting-board, here lost.Rawson 1992:
We know little about the qualities of landscape painting of the Tang and Five Dynasties periods, as almost none has survived. Under the Tang, leading painters by the names of Li Sixun (651-716) and Li Zhaodao (c. 670-730) are said to have excelled in landscape painting, but few copies of their work have survived. Banner paintings from cave 17 at Dunhuang give a few early examples of landscape painting. Certain basic techniques of landscape construction are already evident which were later to be discussed by Song dynasty theorists. It is clear that the distinction between deep and high distance, described by the Northern Song painter Guo Xi (c. 1001-1090), is being employed. The ridges of the mountains are modelled using short brushstrokes to create texture, as discussed by Song writers too.盡管其配件全部丟失了，但該幡還是被幾乎完整保存下來了，這與現存新德里的一幡是一對，表現了偉大的轉變和國王淨飯王隨後對獄卒們和婦女的審問(Ch. lv. 0011,斯坦因, Desert Cathay,vol. II, Pl. VI),大英博物館藏有一幡主題緊接其後，表現了告別、剃髮和他的苦行生活。所有這些場景都被順序安排成特別完整和雄偉美景的畫面，三個片斷從頂部一直向下，當然風景由下部開始建立。在那裏表現太子在一塊岩石上沉思，只纏一條紅色腰布，他的手臂和上半身都在裸露著，因爲饑餓瘦骨嶙峋。
2007 8 Feb-5 Aug, BM Gallery 91, 'Gods, Guardians and Immortals: Chinese Religious Paintings'
- Associated Event: Life of the Buddha
For full acquisition history, see 1919,0101,0.1.
- Ch.lv.0012 (Stein no.)
Front Painted banner showing three scenes from the Life of the Buddha, set in a beautifully detailed landscape. The episodes illustrate Sakyamuni's farewell to his groom, Chandaka, and his horse, Kanthaka; the shaving of Sakyamuni's head; and his life of austerities. Blank cartouches on alternate sides of the scenes. Ink and colours on silk.
If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Object reference number: RFC710
British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.
The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.