- Museum number
Long banner with a series of three figures (two bodhisattvas and the disciple Ānanda), apparently painted by the same hand as, and a continuation of, OA 1919,0101,0.216. The donor, identified by inscription as Ren Yanchao, appears at the bottom. Ink and colour on silk.
- Production date
- 956 (?)
Height: 341 centimetres (length)
Width: 28.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
From Whitfield 1983:
A number of banners, both in the Stein collection and in the Pelliot collection at the Musee Guimet, are distinguished by their extreme length. One such, of a single, large than life-size Bodhisattva, has already been mentioned in the entry to Pl. 30 and appears in Vol. 3. The rest display not single figures, but series of Bodhisattvas or Buddhas, seated or standing, in almost identical representations arranged one above another. The majority are executed in brush outlines only, with little by way of modelling and little or no colouring. Instead, colourful effects were obtained by the use of colour in the silk material itself and for the outlines of the figures. Several combinations were therefore possible: one, of white outlines on dark blue, has already been seen in Pl. 30; another, of silver on red, was chosen for the large banner of Vol. 3. Other combinations can be seen in this plate and those that follow: red on yellow (Pls. 32, 33); yellow on blue (Pls. 34,35); and ink on yellow (Pls.36, 37).
Although these banners are in no way narrative in content, their function has been clearly identified in connection with the cult of Bhaisajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha. The passage in question, from a section of the earliest Bhaisajyaguru sutra in a work called the Guanting jing 灌頂経, has been translated by Alexander Soper:
If there should be some man or woman, gently born, who is desperately ill and lies on his bed in pain and distress.... Let this sutra be read in its entirety forty-nine times. I urge them to light a seven-tiered lamp, and to hang up parti-colored, life-lengthening spirit-banners.... These should be forty-nine feet long. The seven-tiered lamps should have seven lights per tier, following a form like a cart-wheel. Again, should [such a person] fall into danger or be imprisoned, with fetters loading down his body, he should have parti-coloured spirit-banners made and forty-nine lamps lit .... (Soper, 1959, p. 171.)
The inscription (Fig. 47), which runs in bold if somewhat erratic running characters across the top of the present banner, immediately brings the above passage to mind (translation adapted from Waley):
... Controller of the Guiyi army ... member of the Order of Silverblue Luminous Salary, additional President of the Board of Works, Censor, Upper Pillar to the State ... of Xihe jun, Ren Yanchao drawing blood respectfully (caused to be) painted this forty-nine foot banner in one strip. This banner suspended on high from a dragon hook ... reach straight to ... twisting about and flapping in the wind like a bird in flight, like the coloured (hangings) in the Western Apartments of the Palace. May his Excellency’s life be as that of the hills, his salary vast as the sea. May his lady wife long be spared; may her flower-like countenance forever bloom. Next, it is the object of this offering that his father and mother in the plain may long continue to announce themselves in health and security, and for them are desired the same blessings as for their son and his bride. The time being Da Zhou, third year of Xiande ....
令公壽同出嶽祿 飛鳩西□綵□願 □□宛轉飄飄似 龍鉤高曳直至於 九尺飜壹條其飜乃 任延朝刻血敬畫四十 史大夫上柱國西河郡 大夫檢校工部尚書兼御 …………使銀青光祿 ………歸義軍節度內□
時大週顯德三年 比妻男同霑福祐于 父母長報安康在 花顔永茂次爲原中 比滄溟夫人延遐
Such an inscription, with its clear reference to the passage cited by Soper, the donor’s wishes and the date, brings vividly to mind the realities of life in remote Dunhuang, far from the central Chinese plain whence news might come of his parents. The date, just before the establishment of the Song dynasty (A.D. 960), is of great use in helping to date other similar banners. The banner itself, perhaps because of its great size, does not have the typical triangular headpiece of the smaller banners: instead the inscription forms a rectangular panel stretching across the top, and the remainder of the banner is formed of a single width of silk, but split down the centre to form two narrower strips (Fig. 46).
Nine Bodhisattvas, all forms of Avalokitesvara, and five of them still identified with individual names, are shown on these two strips. They are painted in clear colour washes, mainly red, but occasionally with areas of pale blue, yellow or green, with the outlines picked out in a brighter red, and with occasional use of ink. The same technique and similar colouring seem to have been used on a narrower long banner (H. 303 cm, W. 21 cm) in the Pelliot collection, featuring five apsarasas flying or playing musical instruments (Bannieres, No. 204). But it is clear that more than nine Bodhisattvas in all were originally shown on the double strip below the inscription. A new length can be seen to have been sewn on at the bottom of the left strip (Fig. 46), and as we have seen in the inscription the original length of the whole banner was intended to be forty-nine feet. Part of this further length can be identified. A series of three figures (two more Bodhisattvas and the disciple Ananda) (Fig. 48) on the same silk were noted by Waley as a continuation of this banner, and two details are shown in Pl. 33, showing the same hand in the inscriptions and the same pale blue wash used for the hair of the figures. This additional length, from the left side only, is very slightly narrower but has the same selvedge characteristics as the lower end of the top part, where a new length is sewn on. It ends with a portrait of the donor and two smaller figures, no doubt originally matched by that of his wife and her attendants on the opposite strip, now missing. Just as the total length may still have fallen short of the notional forty-nine feet, we may be sure the donor did not have the banner painted with his own blood, as claimed in the inscription: the red pigment used was probably a local red earth, tuhong 土紅 for the washes and cinnabar, zhu 朱 for the brighter outlines. Hanging a banner of this length would have presented no problems at Dunhuang, for example outside on the cliff face or inside a cave such as Cave 130, which shelters a twenty-six metre figure of the Buddha Amitabha from the eighth century.
From Whitfield 1983:
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- For full acquisition history, see 1919,0101,0.1.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Ch.xxiv.008 (Stein no.)