- Museum number
Painting of the Paradise of Śākyamuni, shown with his retinue of bodhisattvas and monk disciples in an architectural setting, and with newly-born infant souls seated on lotuses. Side scenes illustrate the story of Prince Sujati's filial devotion, with inscriptions in cartouches from the Sutra on Requiting Kindness (Baoen jing). Ink and colour on silk.
- Production date
- 8thC(late) (circa)
Height: 177.60 centimetres
Width: 121 centimetres
- Curator's comments
From Whitfield 1982:
This painting demonstrates the way in which sutras were illustrated in the art of Dunhuang, both in the wall paintings and in those on silk, as it can be described as a bianxiang 變相,or illustration to the Dafangbianfo baoen jing 大方便佛報恩經.The concept of baoen, or the requiting of blessings received, is one that must have easily become popular in China, since it accorded well with Chinese traditional values of filial piety. In fact the story of Prince Sujāti is taken from the xiaoyang 孝養，or filial devotion section of the Baoen-sūtra. The subject is the duty owed by a child to his parents in requitement of the blessings received from them. The merit earned by such requitement could be much greater than the original blessings (Mochizuki, 1973-74,p.4551).In the present painting, the side scenes on the right side show Sujāti’s filial devotion, to the extent of sacrificing his own body to feed his parents in a time of crisis. At the same time, the splendours and delights of the Pure Land of Sākyamuni are shown in the centre.
The painting is virtually complete, including a painted valance and the plain sewn-on silk border, except for part of the centre foreground. Its rich, yet delicate colouring, though faded, is in places extraordinarily well preserved and shows the full splendour of Buddhist painting in the High Tang period. Despite this great beauty of colour and form, the painting has rarely been reproduced before (Matsumoto, 1937, Pl. 58; Stein, Thousand Buddhas, Pl. VI, part only), and then only in monochrome. It is a fine example of a more developed paradise scene than Buddha Preaching the Law (Pl.7). In order to help the faithful to visualize the splendours of the Pure Land into which they could hope to be reborn, the depiction includes a growing retinue of attendants about the Buddha and a magnificent setting, with musicians below and pavilions above, representing the delights and beauties of the Pure Land. The main part of the assembly is gathered on a platform rising out of a lotus lake: here infant souls, newly reborn, are seen on lotus flowers joining in adoration (Pl.8-8). To either side of this assembly are narrow side scenes set in landscapes. These represent episodes from three of the nine parts of the Baoen-sūtra. Each scene is identified by a cartouche inscribed with the relevant part of the story, so that the painting could easily be used for the instruction of the faithful.
On the right side, from the top downwards, are seven episodes from the story of Prince Sujāti (Fig.22). The top scene, showing an official in red bowing before a king, is accompanied by a caption introducing the king of Vārānasī and his minister Rahula, who had conceived traitorous ambitions against him. In the second scene “a spirit appears out of space and warns the prince” of the impending attack by Rahula’s troops. Subsequent scenes show the flight of the king, his wife and son by a ladder from the walls of the city and their journey, taking with them a bag of provisions. In the sixth scene, when these have been exhausted, Sujāti is seen interposing between the king, with upraised sword, and the queen, whom he is about to kill. At the bottom, Sujāti, his body covered in wounds, is left crawling by the roadside as the king and his wife continue on their way. For the remainder of the story, see the side scenes to Stein painting 1(Figs.34, 35). The left side is divided between two stories: from the top downwards five cartouches describe part of the story of the deer mother, in which a deer conceives after drinking water in which a rishi had washed his clothes (Fig.21). Her child is shown as a woman, twice seen walking around the rishi’s cave, with lotuses springing from her footprints (Pl.8-7). From the bottom, another three scenes give part of the story of the Good and Wicked Sons, also from the Baoen-sūtra. At the bottom is the king of Vārānasī with one of his wives. The middle scene shows the childless king in front of a shrine performing ceremonies of supplication, as a result of which two sons were eventually born and named after the characters of the king’s first and second wives. The third scene, above this, shows the fulfilment of the Good Son’s vow to fill the land with treasures. The inscriptions supply more detail than the painter was able to show in these scenes, and in particular the lowest caption refers to the Good Son’s fast and to his mother’s intercession with the king to allow him to enter the ocean and cull its treasures in fulfillment of his vow.
All of these scenes are set in landscape, with a few simple conventions to aid in the telling of the story. Thus the capital of the country of Vārānasī is represented by a city wall running across the narrow picture space, and a single pavilion, open at the front and with a flight of steps, serves both as the shrine where the king makes his vows (Fig.21, upper right)and as the setting, perhaps the palace, where a spirit appears to warn the king of his minister’s impending treachery(Fig.22,upper right).The other scenes are all appropriately set in landscapes which, by means of triangular slopes, zig-zag banks and flat spaces between, offer spaces for the incidents of the story. Some of the slopes, for example in the detail shown from the story of the deer (Pl.8-7), feature tall peaks and numerous plants and trees. The pointed forms of these peaks find counterparts both in the wall paintings and in some of the banners showing scenes from the life of the historical Buddha (Pl.39-1). Broad ink strokes are used to give further emphasis to the curved slopes and the vertical banks.
In this painting the donors too are represented at the foot of these side scenes: on the right a nun and a novice, and on the left a woman, named as the lady Meng, kneeling and holding an incense burner. Her modest attitude, demure headdress and high-waisted robe all suggest a date still in the eighth century A.D.
The architecture of the buildings above the paradise assembly reflects the appearance of Tang dynasty Buddhist temples, with a gatehouse and main hall on the central axis, connected by galleries to two-storeyed pavilions on either side of the main courtyard (Pl.8-3). The gateway itself is largely hidden by the Bodhi trees and canopy over the Buddha, but its great hipped roof, with the eaves seen from below and large “owl’s tail” finials, stretches across half the picture as a kind of canopy for the whole assembly. Beyond it, a raised and balustraded causeway leads to the main hall. This has just three bays. Simple brackets crown the columns, and straight struts provide additional support between them. The space within the hall revealed by the rolled-up bamboo screens is occupied by a low dais, beyond which is a painted screen.
Although the central hall is quite small, its relationship with the gateway gives it a good deal of prominence. Both are seen from below so that it almost appears with the latter as a tall, two-storeyed building, a much larger version of the two-storeyed side pavilions. The latter display the same sequence of dark lower roof, balcony and upper roof with dark ridges and acroteria, but they are seen from above. On either side of the main axis, the open galleries have white-painted walls with square wooden windows and doors open to an interior beyond; there are lotus pedestals, six in all, along the galleries, but no figures on them. Above the roofs, the Buddhas of the Four Directions rise on cloud supports. Finally, the platform from which the entire complex rises is lined with panels of tilework elaborately decorated with floral patterns.
The painting is endowed throughout with an extraordinary richness of colour in which dark and light are used to their best effect. Examples of the way in which the painter has achieved this can be seen in the main group of deities in the centre of the painting. Here, a black ground is used behind the figures, admirably setting off the rainbow hues of the haloes. Higher up, the black roofs of the gateway and side pavilions have a similar role. The haloes themselves are carefully orchestrated: among the lesser figures, the majority have plain colours (five blue, four green). They accord well with the prevailing tones in the whole painting. On them the petals (oblong or broad overlapping, respectively) are traced in fine white lines, now barely visible. The others (four with white cloud scrolls on a purple ground, and four with similar scrolls on orange and red) are evenly distributed to encircle the main figure. Only four are fully visible, while the others are partially obscured by the haloes of the three main figures. These in turn are far more elaborate. It is not necessary to describe them, as they are clear in the plates, but it may be observed that only that of the Buddha is adorned with a series of triangles appearing between the outer rows of petals. These triangles just touch to form a regular dentellation; in later paintings they are separated so as to appear more like barbed points, and their use gradually spreads from the main Buddha to the Bodhisattvas and eventually to lesser figures as well.
The figures of the two Bodhisattvas, their compassionate faces seen from the front but gently inclined towards the central Buddha, invite comparison with wall paintings of the early Tang, such as in Cave 322(Dunhuang bihua, Pls.124-25). They retain a compactness of design although the richness of their adornments clearly indicates a somewhat later date for the painting on silk. In the foreground, the single dancing figure (Fig.20), poised between two garudas, sways and holds aloft long narrow scarves, striped in green and brilliant purple; these, too, are reminiscent of earlier wall paintings, e.g., Cave 220 (ibid., Pl.115).Bright colours such as purple and red are used in the garments of the minor Bodhisattvas and musicians, symmetrically disposed in the groups on either side.
The silk of which the painting is made up consists of one full width of 55.5cm,and two half widths of about 27 cm each. The resulting painted area is thus slightly wider than that of Pl.7, and of course much longer, but the main figures are very much smaller, principally as a result of accommodating the narrative scenes on either side. By the careful manipulation of scale, however, the artist has been able to avoid any feeling of crowding.
Finally, a feature which deserves special mention is the elegantly finished painted valance (Pl.8-2) and borders of flowers. The valance is elaborately made up with two double white streamers tied in symmetrical bows and dividing it into thirds. An actual example of such a valance, similarly divided by prominent streamers, is preserved in the Stein collection (Vol.3, Pl.8). Above the valance is a wide border of pairs of red florets edged in yellow with green and yellow leaf motifs. Similar but narrower borders with single florets separate the main paradise scene from the narrative side scenes. The present painted valance and the painted floral border above it are on a single separate piece of silk sewn onto the top edge of the painting.
From Whitfield 1982:
- Not on display
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Baoen Sutra
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- For full acquisition history, see 1919,0101,0.1.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Ch.liv.004 (Stein no.)