- Museum number
Painting inspired by Esoteric Buddhism, showing a Thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Avalokiteśvara with accompanying figures, various gestures and his usual attributes (conch shell, vase, sun and moon, Amitābha figure in headdress). A huge halo of hands surrounds him, each bearing a single eye.The accompanying members of his cult (identified by inscriptions in cartouches) would have been executed according to specific descriptions in a particular sutra, to ensure the painting's efficacy. Ink and colour on silk.
- Production date
late 9thC to early 10thC (Russell-Smith 2005)
Height: 2.26 metres
Width: 1.67 metres
- Curator's comments
From Whitfield 1982:
This impressive painting, considered by Waley as one of the finest in the collection and by Matsumoto as a masterpiece of Tang Esoteric Buddhist painting, testifies to the increasing popularity of Vajrayana, or Esoteric Buddhism, during the period of Tibetan domination at Dunhuang. This influence has already been seen in the equally large paradise of Bhaisajyaguru(Pl.9) where thousand-armed forms of Avalokitesvara and Manjusri are found in the upper corners of the painting. A thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara also appears as a principal figure in the other large Bhaisajyaguru painting (Pl.16), where this deity, together with Cintamanicakra, is specifically mentioned in the dedicatory inscription, dated in accordance with A.D.836.The popularity of Avalokitesvara, as well as the spread of Esoteric doctrines, ensured that there were many examples among both the wall paintings and the paintings on silk and other materials as well. Thus in the Stein collection, a painting on hemp (see Vol.2, Pl.40) with donors in early to mid-ninth century costume provides the closest parallel to this much larger silk painting. The two have an almost identical arrangement, although the hemp painting has far fewer elements. Another painting in which many of the same figures are repeated in the same positions in the standing Avalokitesvara of this type dated A.D.981 in the Musee Guimet, while several others are in New Delhi.
Avalokitesvara in the centre of the silk painting is magnificently portrayed. As the facial features and bare forearms and hands are painted in carefully shaded orange and flesh tones (Pl.18-2), with red or purple outlines, a shimmering circle is created by the outermost rows of countless hands, each with a single eye. Far larger forearms and hands, forty in number, each hand grasping an attribute or forming a mudra, weave a complex pattern around the figure. They are crowned by an extra pair of hands in anjali-mudra over the top. Green bracelets with blue jewels, and the blue colour of many of the attributes, form a leitmotif of the colour scheme, matching the luxuriant blue hair spreading over the shoulders of Avalokitesvara. A few of the attributes appear especially prominent: the white conch shell and vase on opposite sides, the sun and moon, the figure of a small Buddha and a pavilion near the top of the group. Avalokitesvara is represented with eleven heads and a single“parent”figure of his spiritual father, Amitabha, in his tiara. Below him a preta and a beggar stretch out their hands to receive sweet dew and the Seven treasures from the two hands which are in vara-mudra (Fig.54).
The essential elements around Avalokitesvara in the smaller painting on hemp (Vol.2, Pl.40) are, above,the Bodhisattvas of Sunlight and Moonlight, and below, two vajra-holding deities with flaming hair. In the middle on either side are Cintamanicakra and a kneeling Bodhisattva. All can be identified in the present silk painting also, but to them are added many more. At the top, to either side of Sunlight and Moonlight (Pl.18-9), are transcendent Buddhas of the Ten Directions, in groups of the Ten Directions, in groups of five (Pls.18-3, 18-4). Below them on the left (Pl.18-3)the adoring figure is labeled “Scattering Flowers” and is joined by another manifestation of Avalokitesvara, namely Amoghapasa, who rescues souls with his rope. Their counterparts on the right are Cintamanicakra and another adoring figure “Spreading Incense”(Pls.18-4,18-6). Below these on either side appear the Indian gods Brahma and Indra, taken into the Buddhist pantheon as protectors of the law, with their attendants, and beneath them Mahakala standing on the left and Mahesvara(Siva)on the right on a white-spotted blue bull and holding a child, symbolic of his role as creator(Pl.18-10).Below these again, these are still two large groups on either side above the flaming vajra figures. On the left the group is led by the Peacock King (Pl.18-7), accompanied by a Bodhisattva and a Devaraja, and two of the Four Guardian Kings, one of whom is identified by his lance and stupa as Vaisravana, Guardian of the North. His sister Sri Devi kneels in front of them. On the right, the group is led by the Golden-winged Bird King riding a phoenix (Pl.18-8),again with two of the Four Guardian Kings. Behind him are a Buddha and a woman, with two children (probably Hariti), while the figure opposite Sri Devi is a kneeling white-haired rishi holding a staff, the Rishi Vasu (Fig.53). His emaciated limbs and general bony appearance are comparable to a similar aged but four-armed figure in the southern niche of Cave 148 at Dunhuang, a cave said to be dated A.D.775.
In the centre, between these two groups, is a lotus pool(Fig.54).The stem of Avalokitesvara’s lotus thron rises from this pool, encircled by swirling waters and supported by two naga figures with additional serpent heads and serpent tails (Pl.18-5).Six other naga figures are also in the pool.Below it only parts remain of two more figures with flame surrounds, identified by the cartouches as Trailokyavijaya (“Subbuer of the three Worlds”) and Vinayaka. It is clear from the dated paintings in the Musee Guimet (bannieres, No. 101, dated 943 A. D., and No.103, dated A. D. 981) that this subject was still popular for nearly a century and half after the end of the Tibetan period at Dunhuang. Nevertheless, when considered from the point of view of style, the Stein painting must be considerably earlier. The tenth-century paintings are notable for their much greater degree of geometrical stylization, harsher colour scheme with strong contrasts of red and green, and of course the addition of prominent inscriptions and donors represented in large size. The need to rationalize the composition to take in these new elements has led to the elimination of others: the naga figures in the lotus pool have lost their snake headdresses by A.D.943, and the pool itself is barely recognizable behind the altar in the painting dated A.D.981.The Stein painting, on the other hand, presents an integrated composition in which the lower groups in particular range themselves around the pool and do not need cloud supports, as do the upper deities. This distinction is lost in the tenth century, when all the groups have stylised cloud supports. Far more subtlety is displayed as well in the articulation of the various figures. This is perhaps especially noticeable in the array of arms around the central deity: in contrast to the rigid attitudes of the arms radiating from the Guimet Avalokitesvaras, the arms, wrists and hands here are bent at different angles and interlace in a manner which is complex yet permits of no confusion. Finally, if we examine details of the facial delineation, we shall find an echo here of the same convention for the lips and mouth already described in Pl.7. Thus this painting and those at the Guimet (Together with images on paper such as Stein painting 167,see Vol.2,Pl.71)seem to come at opposite ends of both stylistic and iconographic development.
The painting is on three complete widths of silk, each about 55 cm wide. An unpainted margin about 5 cm wide has been left all around the edge. Remnants of the original sewn-on border, which may also have been stuck down, are clearly visible as a narrow strip at the extreme edge of the painted area. Enough remains of the bottom border to show that the painting is essentially complete and that there were no donors. In this it resembles some of the other larger earlier paintings such as P1.9. Perhaps the reason may be that such large and sumptuously executed paintings were not single works but part of a larger donation or commission. Clearly by analogy with the wall paintings, such paintings would not have hung alone; however, the question of the precise circumstances in which they were used has yet to be answered satisfactorily.
From Whitfield 1982:
前述小型的麻繪（第2卷, 圖40）上，圍繞觀音的主要諸像中，上方有日光菩薩和月光菩薩，下方是持金剛杵的二身怒髮鬼神，中段兩側則是如意輪觀音和單腿直跪的菩薩，都可以在本畫中找到。然而，本絹繪不僅包括了上面所有的內容，還增加了很多像。上邊的日光菩薩、月光菩薩（參見圖18－9）兩旁有十方化佛（參見圖18－3，18－4），每側有五身。畫面的左下方的供奉者標有“散花”二字，並排的是觀音變身之一，即通過羂索救濟衆生的不空羂索觀音（參見圖18－3）。右側相对的位置上，是 “塗香”與如意輪觀音（參見圖18－4，18－6）。其下兩側是本來為印度神的梵天和帝釋天，後被納入佛教護法神的萬神殿中，以及他們的眷屬。他們的下邊，左側站立著摩訶迦羅天，右側是乘白斑青牛的摩醯首羅天，懷抱可以象徵他的創造者身份的童子（參見圖18－10）。其下，左右兩側火頭金剛之上佈有左右兩組群像。左邊一組以孔雀王爲首（參見圖18－7），隨從有一尊菩薩、一尊天王以及包括四天王中的兩尊，兩天王中的一尊手托槍和塔，可以判斷是北方天的多聞天。他的姐姐功德天跪在這一群像前。右邊群體中是以金翅鳥爲首（參見圖18－8），隨從有四天王中的二身，其後是如來以及懷抱兩個童子的婦人（可能是訶梨帝母）。與功德天對稱的位置上，是手持錫杖跪着的的白髯老人婆娑仙（參見Fig.53）。他瘦骨嶙峋的手足和身軀，与據説是775年的敦煌第148窟南壁龕中的四臂老人形象相似。
The increasing popularity of Vajrayāna during the Tibetan domination of Dunhuang is shown by this painting and the large Paradise of Bhaisajyaguru where 1,000-armed forms of Avalokiteśvara and Mañjuśrī are found. Within the circle of hands, each with a single eye, are forty larger forearms and hands, grasping an attribute or making a ‘mudrā’. Below the Bodhisattva are a ‘preta’ (hungry ghost) and a beggar, who stretch out their hands to receive sweet dew and the Seven Treasures. Below, left and right, with two of the Four Guardian Kings are the Peacock King and the Golden-winged Bird King, riding a phoenix.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2004 7 May-12 Sept, London, British Library, 'The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith'
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- For full acquisition history, see 1919,0101,0.1.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Ch.lvi.0019 (Stein no.)