- Museum number
Complex painting showing the Paradise of Maitreya, Buddha of the Future, in an architectural setting. Seated at the centre, Maitreya is accompanied by two bodhisattvas and two disciple monks. At their sides, two lokapalas (world protectors): Virūpākṣa with a sword and Vaisravana with a banner. Two other Buddhas, and dancers, deities and musicians are also part of the paradise scene. Above and below the main images are a series of smaller pictures showing scenes from the Sutra of Maitreya's Birth (Mile xiasheng jing), flanked by inscribed cartouches. Ink and colour on silk.
- Production date
Height: 162.20 centimetres (Textile in frame)
Height: 139 centimetres (painted area)
Width: 137.50 centimetres (Textile in frame)
Width: 116 centimetres (painted area)
Depth: 3.80 centimetres (Textile in frame with wall fixing)
Depth: 3.50 centimetres (Textile in frame)
- Curator's comments
From Whitfield 1983:
This impressive paradise painting is identified as that of Maitreya by the several texts from the Maitreya sutra inscribed in cartouches accompanying scenes at the top and bottom of the painting. Other examples of the subject have been listed by Terukaze Akiyama in his excellent article in Seiiki Bunka Kenkyu, Ⅵ.
The whole composition is much more densely packed than some of the comparable wall paintings and other examples of this subject to which Eiichi Matsumoto and Terukazu Akiyama have drawn attention. In the centre, the Buddha and his attendants form a compact group, the spaces between them almost completely filled by their decorated aureoles (Pl. 12-2). Behind them are the guardian kings Vaisravana, holding a trident-banner with black and white streamers, and Virupaksa, holding a sword, each accompanied by a Dharmapala. Smaller groups, each of a Buddha with two seated Bodhisattvas and a third standing behind, appear on either side. Even in these groups set diagonally there is a strong tendency for the painter to set his figures in the picture plane (Pl. 12-3). As a result the nimbi are again prominent and perfectly circular, and the figures are mainly seen from the front, with just the heads turned to attempt to show the relationships between them. Such an arrangement may be contrasted with the more accomplished groupings of similar triads in compositions of the ninth century, for example in the paradises of Bhaisajyaguru and Amitabha (Vol. 1, Pls. 10, 16).
Most distinctive, in this and other representations of Maitreya’s paradise, are the ordination scenes that appear here at the bottom of the painting (Pl. 12-6), together with a sumptuous array of gifts on two facing altar tables: bundles of scrolls or silk, tall water-sprinklers, a lobed silver dish, and baskets each containing six cakes, or mounds of sacred grain (Fig. 13). On the right a king and on the left a queen, each with a retinue of attendants, are seated as their heads are shaved. These two scenes are given added visual interest by the inclusion of a groom with three saddled horses, on the right, and a hexagonal kiosk with multi-coloured panels, on the left, Between the two groups is a canopied throne with a number of figures busy about it.
As a counterpart to these scenes at the bottom of the painting, further narrative scenes appear at the top (Pl. 12-5), in a narrow space above a range of mountains and spiky trees stretching right across the painting at the level of the tops of the canopies of the main figures. These scenes too are found in other representations of Maitreya’s paradise, including a preparatory sketch on paper (Fig. 85) and many examples in wall paintings at Dunhuang and Wanfoxia. Among the latter, those on the west wall of Cave 25 of the Yulin caves (Warner, 1938, Pl. XXX), dating from the ninth century, are of particular beauty, and will be referred to again below.
In the present painting on silk, all these narrative scenes are accompanied by texts in cartouches. The texts themselves are taken from the Mile xiasheng jing, which contains anecdotes announcing the future birth of Maitreya as the son of the minister Brahmayu in the city of Ketumati under the reign of King Cakravarti-raja Sankha. For reasons that will become clear below, it is necessary to examine each of the scenes in turn, along with the accompanying text. All of the texts are quotations from Kumarajiva’s translation of the Maitreya sutra (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, no. 454, pp. 423-25), but with constant errors on the part of the copyist; only those substitutions essential to the understanding of the text are given here. The translations are those given by Arthur Waley in his Catalogue.
Beginning from the top right, the first cartouche describes the peaceful conditions that will obtain when the future Buddha, Maitreya, is born:
In those days the people of the land when their span of life is over, will go of their own accord to the tomb and die there. Peace and happiness will prevail. (In that country) there will be no fierce bandits nor thieves to fear. In none of the towns or villages will men shut their gates. (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 424a.)
The first line of this inscription is illustrated in another part of the painting, and we shall return to it later. Here in the top right corner the illustration shows three men seated at a long table, in a carpeted enclosure which is screened off by curtains. There are dishes on the table, though barely visible, and two attendants are bringing other dishes. In addition, a lady and a gentleman are seen in front of a large mirror on a stand. This last detail does not appear in the more detailed ninth century depiction of this scene in Cave 25 of the Yulin caves (Warner, 1938, Pl. XLI A; Lo Archive, no. 3020). The mirror, however, is a clue to other elements of the iconography which the painter was forced to omit because of lack of space. Cave 25 at Yulin, although it does not show a mirror, does show a group of women, and one man making a prostration, in the curtained space opposite the feasting scene. Terukazu Akiyama has noted a similar group of ladies making an offering in the sketches of the manuscript Stein 259 (Fig. 85), and has suggested that they may represent the daughter of King Cakravarti-raja Sankha, praising Maitreya. But the association of the group with a feast, in the manuscript and in the wall painting, suggests a simpler explanation. In Cave 12 at Dunhuang (Dunhuang bihua, Pl. 178), all the elements –feast scene, group of women, prostrated figure, mirror, and a standing man and woman-are seen along with gifts in boxes set out in the carpeted enclosure. The feast is evidently a wedding feast with the ladies grouped around the bride, and may illustrate the passage in the Mile xiasheng jing that reads: 女人年五百歲爾乃行嫁 “women will only marry when they reach the age of 500”,referring to the longevity of people in Maitreya’s land (see Chugoku Sekkutsu, Tonko Makkokutsu, vol. 3, note to Pl. 142). In every case, the painter’s intention was to show a scene of peace and happiness, and not the Way of Hungry Ghosts, as was originally suggested by Eiichi Matsumoto.
The second caption reads:
Moreover there will be no sorrows or cares, floods, fires, weapons, or men of war; nor shall any man suffer from hunger, poisoning, or other hurt. (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p.424a.)
Then all devas and holy dragons, without showing themselves, shall rain down flowers and perfumes, offering them to the Buddha. The three thousand million worlds...(Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 424b.)
In the illustration, three men are seated at a table with money-bags on it. Lengths of cloth are draped over a stand at the back, and a vase is shown in front. This illustration does not seem to appear in Cave 25. The theme is clearly one of prosperity, continuing that of the first scene.
The third illustration is one that is familiar not only from all other representations of the Maitreya sutra, but from other secular sources as well, the best-known example being the painted bricks from tombs of the Wei and Jin dynasties at Jiayuguan in Gansu province, illustrating the fruitful activities in the life of the deceased (Han Tang bihua, Pl. 49), while another tomb dated A. D. 630 in Shaanxi province has the same scene almost exactly as seen here (ibid., Pl. 59).
The first line of the text can be read only with the help of the sutra text, and proves to follow on directly from the last quotation:
(The three thousand million worlds ) will all shake greatly. The light from Maitreya’s body shall shine upon limitless lands and all those that pass shall see Buddha. (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 424b.)
The painter has simply taken a theme already familiar in the context of Chinese pictorial art and used it with its connotations of agricultural production to continue the theme begun in the first scene. Although lack of space prevented their inclusion in this silk painting, in other illustrations of the Maitreya sutra, in Cave 25 at Yulin and elsewhere, the man ploughing with two oxen is set next to others threshing and winnowing, a motif also seen among the painted bricks of the third century from Jiayuguan (Han Tang bihua, Pl. 44) and familiar from such Han dynasty monuments as clay bricks from Sichuan. In the caption to this scene in Cave 61 at Dunhuang, the text (one phrase of which, 美味皆充足, is from Yijing’s translation of the sutra, Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, no.455, p.426a) is directly relevant to the picture, and still essentially has an optimistic tone: “When the Compassionate one is met with, foods will all be in plenty; (instead of) toiling and suffering to the point of exhaustion, ploughing and sowing will be no labour” (Dunhuang bihua, Pl. 201). Kumarajiva’s translation is even more to the point: “one sowing will yield seven-fold; with very little effort one will harvest a great deal ”一種七穫用功甚少所取甚多(Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, no. 454, p. 424a).
The fourth cartouche adjoins the central courtyard scene:
Then the people of the land shall make each of them this reflection: “Even if for a thousand million years I escape the Three Evil Ways, the world is impermanent and life cannot be preserved forever”. (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 424c.)
The illustration simply shows four men in a devout attitude. They are matched on the opposite side of the courtyard by a similar group of women; next to them is the fifth cartouche:
(In the city of Ketumati, where Maitreya will be born) neither in (the gardens of ) any of the houses of the city nor in any of the outlying quarters or lanes will there be the least particle (of common earth), but all the ground will everywhere be covered with golden sand; and here and there will be heaps of silver and of gold. (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14,p. 424a.)
The image of precious things lying about is not seen here in the painting, perhaps because of lack of space. A detail in the left foreground, however, suggests that the phrase jinshan 金山(golden rock, for 金沙, golden sand) was taken literally by the painter, for a large rock is seen lying on the ground, with a man passing by and pointing to it. His demeanour is somewhat similar to a figure in the Maitreya paradise in Cave 25 at Yulin, shown walking past symbols of wealth and treasure lying on the ground. Moreover the Yulin scene occurs in the same context, for immediately above in the wall painting is a much more beautifully rendered version of the scene that follows next in the silk painting: a man and a woman standing in front of an older couple seated in a beehive-shaped hut. In the wall painting there is only one occupant of the hut, a venerable old man with a snow-white beard and rustic twisted staff, seated in front of an elaborate three- fold landscape screen, apparently relaxed and cheerful as he gives his hand in farewell to his sorrowing wife and reverent family.
It is immediately apparent that the scene, both in the wall painting and in the Stein painting on silk, illustrates the first line of the first cartouche in the top right corner of the painting: “In those days the people of the land when their span of life is over, will go of their own accord to the tomb and die there”. Another possible interpretation of this scene is suggested both by the sutra and by the shape of the hut. This is just like the meditation cells often depicted at Dunhuang (see Vol. 1, Pl. 19-3, top left). The sutra says that in Maitreya’s time many people will take up the religious life and meditate. A third explanation, that these are the parents of Maitreya, does not account for the cell-like structure of the hut, or the evident grief seen in the Yulin painting.
The last cartouche at the top of the painting is on the far left and reads:
When (Maitreya) has finished turning the Wheel of the Law and has saved both devas and men he will go with all his disciples into the town. Innumerable devas reverencing and worshipping the Buddha will follow him into the city of ketumati. When they are inside (they will perform) innumerable miracles and Sakra, Lord of Devas, will make offering ... (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 425b.)
The accompanying illustration appears in a rather condensed form, due to lack of space. In Cave 25 the same motifs, the town of Ketumati, the Buddha with his attendants receiving an offering from a kneeling dignitary, a demon sweeping outside the walls of the city, and a dragon appearing in the sky, appear in more spacious fashion also in an upper corner, but reversed and on the right. All of them have been identified by Langdon Warner with passages in the sutra.
The scenes at the bottom of the painting are more immediately recognizable in relation to the cartouches and to the Maitreya sutra, since they deal with specific events that were more easily portrayed than the generalized descriptions of prosperity from the top. Moreover, they are elements with a measure of symmetry, always prized by Chinese painters, and particularly in the context of a paradise painting.
Starting again at the right, the cartouche next to the shaving of the king reads:
Then shall the king Sankha also leave his home and study the way in company with his 84,000 great ministers who respectfully surround him; and again 84,000 excellent Brahmins ... (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p.424c.)
The accompanying illustration is more prominent in this painting on silk than in the wall paintings, where the shaving scenes appear nearer the centre of the composition. The horses that appear in the corner are of interest. They add considerably to the impression of importance in the retinue attending the king, but they do not appear in the wall paintings. The one horse that does appear in Cave 25 is immediately next to this group, but is in fact one of the Seven Treasures of the Cakravartin (see Vol. 1, Pl. 40). The artist of the Stein painting has simply secularized the motif and repeated it to enlarge the initiation group, with considerable success.
The next cartouche, a green one, between the table laden with offerings and vessels and the central canopied throne, reads:
Then Brahmins intelligent and enlightened, very learned in Buddha’s law, shall leave their homes and build a stupa, dedicating it ... (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 424c.)
The words 造塔(build a stupa )are not in the sutra text, and Waley has already pointed out that the scene itself must refer not to the building of a stupa but to the dismantling of the king’s jeweled throne, given as a present to Maitreya, and that the Brahmins, in the Khotanese version of the story, were skilled not “in Buddha’s Law”, but “in the study of the Vedas”. The dismantling operation is much clearer in the wall paintings of Cave 25, where a two-storeyed pavilion is shown with the roof off.
The next cartouche, in front of the same scene, is not illustrated:
Then a Brahmin’s son named Sumati, a relation of Maitreya, of acute penetration and intelligence who is the same that in this incarnation is called Uttara with 60,000 others ... (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 424c.)
Above it is another:
At that time there shall leave their homes in (the name of) Buddha’s Law altogether innumerable thousands of ten thousands of millions of beings, who seeing the miseries of the world shall all in maitreya’s Law leave their home ... offering. (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 424c.)
Again, there is no room for specific illustration. The last cartouche brings us to the scene of the shaving of the queen:
The king Sankha shall have a precious mistress by name Syamavati who is the Visakha of today. She and her 84,000 waiting women shall all leave their homes. The king sankha shall have an heir Apparent called Devarupa who is the Devasana of today. He too with 84,000 companions shall leave his home (praising) Maitreya. (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 424c.)
The scene itself is self-explanatory, with an attendant kneeling to receive the locks of the queen’s hair as her head is shaved. As a counter-balance to the horses on the right side, there is a hexagonal kiosk (apparently portable or actually being carried, judging from the way in which the base is draped, which is comparable to those seen in the procession of Zhang Yichao and his wife in Cave 156 [Dunhuang bihua, Pl. 189]). Its sides are decorated with square panels each containing a flower, alternately blue and orange, green and red, in the same fashion as is seen on the back of Stein painting 71 (Pl. 74-2). In front of this kiosk, a large rock is lying on the ground, not just a perfunctory attempt (as seen behind the horses on the right) at continuing the representation of the landscape setting of the whole painting, but a literal representation of the 金山(golden rock, for 金山, golden sand) referred to in the fifth cartouche, disregarded by the people and left lying about “like tiles, stones, grass or lumps of earth” (Taisho Daizokyo, vol. 14, p. 424b).
Terukazu Akiyama has noted how the Mile xiasheng jing was the third most popular subject, after the paradises of Amitabha and Bhaisajyaguru, with sixty-eight examples in the Dunhuang Institute list. With such a numerous filiation of illustrations to the sutra, the painter could easily resort to abbreviation, condensation, or conflation of the scenes without fear of being misunderstood. I believe that it is important to realize that the present painting on silk, like the sutra itself, is principally concerned with describing the joys of the time when Maitreya shall be born. Some of the scenes, particularly those of the wedding feast, and those of ploughing and reaping, were taken directly from pre-Buddhist Chinese depictions, keeping their original associations of peace and plenty: there is no need to interpret them as allusions to the Way of Hungry Ghosts or the Way of Animals, as some scholars have suggested, nor to see them as “some Maitreya legend not contained in the sutra”, as Waley wrote.
The date of the painting is not easy to fix exactly, but the examination of the individual scenes has already shown that it cannot be early in the sequence of Maitreya paradises at Dunhuang and Wanfoxia. The landscape setting does not differ greatly in technique from that of the early Northern Song in Cave 61 (Grottes, Pl. CCⅦ), but the greater compactness and coherence of the ordination scenes in the foreground, closer to a late ninth century model, suggest a date early in the tenth century.
From Whitfield 1983:
關於此題記的第一行內容，繪在此畫別的部分中，稍後加以贅述。右上角的畫面表現三個男人圍坐在一個長桌子周圍，在掛著窗簾的鋪地毯的房間。桌子上有杯盤，雖然只是勉強看得見，兩個侍從還在上菜。另外，一男一女在一個大鏡子前面站著，最後一個細節在榆林第25窟9世紀繪畫(Warner, 1938, Pl. XLI A; Lo Archive, no. 3020)中對這個場景的描述中沒有出現，鏡子的省略提示了聖像的其它一些成分也會因爲缺乏空間而被迫省略了。榆林第25窟的繪畫雖然沒有表現鏡子，但表現了掛著窗簾的屋子里一群婦女和一個俯臥的男子，與宴會的場面相對。秋山教授列舉出《彌勒下生經變》白描畫稿（參照Fig.85）中同樣的一群婦人攜帶供物的場景，並指出她們可能是讚頌彌勒的轉輪聖王儴佉的王女们。但是，有關這種宴會場景的人物，無論在畫稿還是壁畫中，都只附了簡單的說明文，無法瞭解確切的情況。在敦煌第12窟的壁畫（參照《敦煌壁畫》圖版178）中，可見到宴會的場面、衆多婦人、俯首的人物、鏡子、並排而立的男女等所有的東西，它們之間鋪著地毯的室內，描繪著箱裝的禮品。那宴會的場面中，有婦人們圍繞著新娘，顯然體現的是婚宴。《彌勒下生經》中有在彌勒淨土人人都能長壽這一節，可能描繪的是“女人年五百歲爾乃行嫁”的場景（參照《中國石窟 敦煌莫高窟》第3卷圖版142的解說）。無論哪一場景，畫家的意圖是盡可能描繪出安樂的情景，正如松本榮一博士曾推斷過的，不是體現餓鬼道的場景。
畫家在這一場景中，加入中國繪畫中非常熟悉的牛耕圖，有接續最初的情景，描繪農業生産繁榮景象的意思。在榆林窟第25窟以及其他《彌勒下生經變相圖》中的，除了用兩頭牛耕地的男人外，還绘有脫粒、过篩的作業，此絹畫由於沒有空間未能充分描繪出來。這種脫粒、过篩的圖，是在3世紀的嘉峪關畫像磚（參照《漢唐壁畫》圖版44）和四川省出土的漢代畫像石中也可見到的古老題材。在敦煌第61窟的與此相应場景的記述中，可知和經文有直接關連的一節（那一節“美味皆充足”，通过義淨譯的经文可以瞭解：參照《大正大藏經》第14卷No.455、426頁上段）。那是“當遇慈悲尊 美味皆充足 勤奮極勞力 耕種不以工”（參照《敦煌壁畫》圖版201），描述的是彌勒淨土中樂观的樣子，而在鳩摩羅什的譯本中有更爲樂观化的記述，即“一種七獲用功甚少所收甚多”（參照《大正大藏經》第14卷No.454、424頁）。
On this painting inscriptions from the ‘Maitreya Sūtra’ describe the joys when Maitreya descends to earth. At the centre are Maitreya and attendants, the guardian kings Vaiśravaṇa, holding a banner with black and white streamers, and Virūpākṣa, holding a sword, each with a Dharmapāla. Smaller groups of Buddhas with seated and standing Bodhisattvas appear on either side. Distinctive of these paintings are ordination scenes as here, showing gifts - scrolls or silk bundles, water sprinklers, a silver dish, and baskets with cakes or mounds of sacred grain. A king and queen with attendants are seated as their heads are shaved. Some ‘Maitreya Sūtra’ scenes showing wedding feasts, ploughing and reaping, were taken from pre-Buddhist depictions in their original associations of peace and plenty.
The Getty's curatorial team suggests the title as Maitreya Sutra Paradise.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1996 14 Jun-29 Sep, London, The British Library, The Mythical Quest
2001 1 Nov-2002 9 Feb, Sydney, Transending Space and Time
2007 8 Feb-5 Aug, BM Gallery 91, 'Gods, Guardians and Immortals: Chinese Religious Paintings'
2016 7 May-4 Sep, Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China's Silk Road
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Sutra of Maitreya's Birth (Mile xiasheng jing)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- For full acquisition history, see 1919,0101,0.1.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Ch.lviii.001 (Stein no.)