- Museum number
Votive painting with four standing figures of Avalokiteśvara in the upper register, each identified in a cartouche, dressed in the Indian style. Below are Samantabhadra on an elephant and Mañjuśrī on a lion, accompanied by bodhisattvas in flowing Chinese-style dress, carrying three-tiered canopies. At the bottom, donor figures, all from the same family (Tang) and a central inscription. Ink and colour on silk.
- Production date
Height: 140.70 centimetres
Width: 97 centimetres
- Curator's comments
From Whitfield 1982:
Until the recent identification of a date on Pl.16, this was thought to be the earliest dated painting in the Stein collection. The subject testifies to the great popularity of Avalokitesvara at Dunhuang, as well as to that of Manjusri and Samantabhadra. Each of the Bodhisattvas is identified by a cartouche, without whose help it would be impossible to distinguish the four in the top row. For instance the third from the right is labeled “Great Merciful, Eleven-faced Guanshiyin”, although like the rest he has just the single figure of Amitabha in his headdress (Pl.23-3). Nevertheless, this Bodhisattva seems to have attracted the special devotion of one of the donors, who has added his own name in the space left in the cartouche.
While the four Bodhisattvas at the top all wear garments and adornments in “Indian” style, though modified to adapt to Chinese taste, particularly in the long underrobe falling in symmetrical folds of reddish pink down to the feet, the figures of Manjusri and Samantabhadra appear entirely in Chinese style (Pl.23-2). Especially in the attendant figures of Bodhisattvas holding triple umbrellas, the initial under-drawing in ink shows clearly beneath the flesh colour of features such as the face and hands. Details such as the mouthline, ending in a swelling upward turn (Pl. 23-4, Fig.71), the eyebrows and nose were re-emphasised in darker ink after completion of the colour work, usually without the spontaneity and swiftness of the under-drawing, but with a more careful weighting of line to accent the contours. The dark hair falling from the shoulders can easily be seen to have been painted at this stage as well, and here too the under-drawing in outline only can be seen beneath.
The haloes display just a few basic types, with wavy “rainbow” haloes alternating with ones featuring double cloud spirals in the upper row of figures. The same cloud type is used for the standing Bodhisattvas below at the sides, those in the centre having green overlapping petals, also found in the centre of the mandorlas behind Manjusri and Samantabhadra. The latter also have cloud patterns on their haloes, and the painted motif is found only in the outer ring of their mandorlas. There is thus a pleasing symmetry and unity in the painting, which extends even to the contrast between upturned and downturned petals in the pedestals of the upper figures. The predominance of gentle curves and spirals in the halo decorations contrasts with those of later periods when even minor Bodhisattvas sport the more geometric or pointed halo motifs.
At the bottom of the painting, in the centre between the single monk and three laymen on the right, and the two nuns and two women on the left, is the cartouche which dates this work (Fig.73), reading from right to left:
First, on behalf of the present Emperor; second, on behalf of his envoy... third, on behalf of his departed parents and all his family...May they (escape) both earthly disasters and obstacles to salvation. Hsien T’ung [Xiantong] 5th(year) [A.D.864]. (Trans. Waley, 1931,p.10.)
This inscription and the donors themselves are shown in a separate narrow register at the bottom of the painting, divided from it by a band of lozenges. Mary Fong (1972) has compared them with other donors of the second half of the ninth century in Cave 85 (dated 867) and Cave 107 (dated 872) at Dunhuang. As Waley has noted, the ladies wear just a single comb in their hair without any of the hairpins common at a later date.
From Whitfield 1982:
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2007 8 Feb-5 Aug, BM Gallery 91, 'Gods, Guardians and Immortals: Chinese Religious Paintings'
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- For full acquisition history, see 1919,0101,0.1.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Ch.lv.0023 (Stein no.)