- Museum number
Painting of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra under a canopy, seated on a lotus and riding on back of a six-tusked elephant (refers to Jataka story of Buddha born as six-tusked elephant). Blank cartouche on the right side. Ink and colour on silk.
- Production date
- 751-850 (circa)
Height: 59.70 centimetres (image)
Width: 20 centimetres (image)
- Curator's comments
From Whitfield 1982:
This painting in subdued colours on brown silk is one of the most beautiful paintings from Dunhuang. Although small in scale and properly belonging to the group of banners to be treated later in this volume, it is shown here because it shows to advantage stylistic features that are common to some of the larger paintings of relatively early date, in this case probably of the late eighth to early ninth century A.D.
The subject is one that is frequently depicted in wall paintings at Qianfodong, particularly during and after the period of Tibetan control (A.D.781-847). There seems little doubt that, although the headpiece and other accessories (cf. Pl. 28) for complete banners had already disappeared when the painting was found, this was originally a banner intended to be hung independently, probably with the Bodhisttva Mañjusri, closely associated with Samantabhadra during the Tang dynasty, on a similar banner.
The Bodhisattva sits in a relaxed pose on his vehicle, the six-tusked elephant, with hands in vara-mudrā.The elephant, advancing towards the right, turns to look back to the left, while the Bodhisattva faces the spectator squarely. One forefoot of the elephant is raised above its white-petalled lotus blossom. The other feet, each on its own red blossom, are firmly planted. Thus, although the composition is still, there is an implied or expected movement, which helps to give spatial interest to the narrowly vertical composition. This can be contrasted with the strong movement towards the centre seen in paintings such as Pl.23,dated A.D.864,and Vol.2,Pls.13 and 14, where Mañjusrī and Samantabhadra are each accompanied by a large advancing retinue, and where the canopies over each of them are seemingly blown back by the breeze created by their movement.
The subtle means by which the artist has given life to the whole composition are of course also present when we look at other details. Samantabhadra’s face is calm, framed by his dark hair of which two locks descend at the temples so that the generous curves of the full cheeks are set off by a gentle concavity at this point. The red lips, faintly outlined in pale ink, are divided by a dark ink line with rounded ends turned gently upwards, giving the effect of a slight smile and strongly contrasting, in its softness and roundness, with the abbreviated technique used for this feature from the end of the ninth century onwards. The shoulders and foreshortened arms are framed by long locks of dark black hair. A long, narrow white riband hangs in a continuous loop from either shoulder and down between the knees, following every curve of the underlying body and garments and so avoiding the stiffer and more symmetrical appearance of such scarves in later figures.
Despite the faded colouring of the painting today, enough remains to suggest that it was originally quite sumptuous. The lotus throne on which Samantabhadra sits seems to have had blue petals, and his outer robe is shaded in a purplish red in contrast to the strong bright red of the inner garment. The elephant, white with gentle modelling washes in pinkish flesh colour, has a splendid harness of dark brown leather edged in bright yellow. The painting was originally bordered, as with many of the banners, with dark brown borders down each side and a band of lozenges at the bottom.
From Whitfield 1982:
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2019 Dec-Jun 2020, London, BM, G33, rotation
2015 – 2016 4 Dec – 29 May, National Museum of Singapore, ‘Treasures of the World’s Cultures’
2005 11 Apr-10 Jul, Seoul Arts Centre, Treasures of the World's Cultures
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- For full acquisition history, see 1919,0101,0.1.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Ch.xlvi.006 (Stein no.)