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A Dated Buddhist Painting from Tun-Huang

Author(s): K. T.
Source: Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Vol. 25, No. 152 (Dec., 1927), pp. 88-89
Published by: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4170081
Accessed: 18/11/2009 23:48

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XXV, 88 MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS BULLETIN
A Dated Buddhist Painting from with bears a Chinese date which corresponds to
Tun-huang A. D. 975. It was originally a votive hanging
IN westemmostChinaproperlies the oasisof dedicated to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
withitstownof likename. Situated (Kuan-yin) by the nuns of the Buddhist temple of
Tun-huang
on theoldhighwaywhichconnected the FarEast Ling-hsiu-ssu. Avalokitesvara is here shown with
withCentralAsiaand thecountries bordering the six arms, within a circle, seated on the lotus throne
Caspianand Mediterranean seas,the Tun-huang which rises from a small tank representinga pond.
wasthemeetingplaceof thecivilizations
district of Of the six arms, the firstpair is uplifted, supporting
EastandWest-a linkestablished morethantwo in each open palm the sun and moon respectively,
thousandyearsago. Sachiu(or Sha-chou),the the former containing the traditional three-legged
firstChinesecityto be visitedby MarcoPolo in bird and the latter the cassia tree, hare, and mortar
the thirteenth century,afterone month'sjourney and pestle. The second pair of hands is in
acrossthe "Desertof Lop,"is thenameby which vyAhkyana mudra (the "signof exposition"),raised
Tun-huang wasthenknown. MarcoPolo noted to the breast, each hand holding a long-stemmed
in "Sachiu" a number of monasteries and abbeys lotus flower. The third pair is held at the side&,
filledwithimagesand throngedwith worshippers.each hand forming possibly the varada mudra
The Venetian,however,did notsee the Buddhist (the "sign of bountifulness"). On the crown is a
sanctuaries in theirsplendor;for in this region seated figure of a Dhyani Buddha. The halos
Buddhism in its full gloryduringthe Wei, behind the body and the head are bordered with
was
T'ang,andearlySungperiods (5thto 1Othcenturies).flames. Over the large circle a canopy is suggested
Of the many ancient templesknownto have by conventionalizedflowers and leaves ornamented
existedin Tun-huang, thereremainsonlya group with beaded garlands,while an altarwith a draped
of chapelscutin thesideof a cliff,a few milesto valance, on which are vessels for offerings,may be
the southeast of thetownof Tun-huang, collectivelyseen in front of the Bodhisattva. On either side
calledtheCh'ien-fo-tung (Cavesof the Thousand of the Bodhisattvastands a young person, the one
Buddhas). A few hundredin number,these on the proper right labelled " Good Young Boy,"
datingfromthe fifthto the eleventhcen- and the one on the left " Evil Young Boy," each
grottos,
tury,aredecoratedwith frescosand stillpreserve holding a scroll. The story of these princes, who
numerousBuddhiststatuesin stone and clay.* are brothers,is related in the Buddhist scriptures.*
Two expeditions, one British,led by Sir Aurel Briefly, the boys set out together to get possession
Steinin 1907, the otherFrench,underProfessorof the all-wish-granting-jewel (cintdmani). The
Paul Pelliotin 1908, exploredthesecavesand good prince acquires it, but the evil one, after
both recoveredlargequantities of paintingsand blindinghis brother,steals the preciouspearl. Upon
manuscripts froma nichein one of the chapels, recovering his sight, the good prince saves his
whichProfessor Pelliotbelieveswaswalledupin brotherfrompunishmentat the hands of their father.
1035. In 1899 (?) the niche was accidentallyThe good prince proves to be S'akya-munihimself
discoveredand its contentsdisclosed;but after and the evil one, Devadatta.
specimens had been submitted to the Viceroyat There are four detached scenes, two on either
Lan-chou,it was againsealedand remainedin- side the large glory. These scenes illustrate sub-
accessibleuntil1907. The greatfindsof Stein jects taken fromthe suitraMiao-fa-lien-hua-ching.t
andPelliotat Tun-huang notonlyrevealthe state The upper scene at the properright shows a young
of civilizationin thatpartof Asia,so littleknown man on a conventionalized peak, leaning forward;
untilnow,butalsobringto lightactualspecimensbelow, a young man standing amid flames. The
of religiousartdatingfromtheclosingcenturies of upper scene at the properleft depicts a young man
thefirstmillennium of theChristian era. on the edge of a precipice ready to jump; below,
Becauseof thetransfer to LondonandParisof a young man risingfromthe water. These scenes,
sucha largenumber of theTun-huang manuscriptsin the order just described, refer respectively to the
and paintings,it has been thoughtdifficultto following passages in the salra :
assemble evena few examplesof thisancientart; " If one who is on the peak of MountSumeru be
but by good fortunethe Museumhas lately pushed down by anotherand think of the power of
acquiredthreedated paintings fromTun-huang, Kuan-yin,then shall he stoplike the sunfirmin the air."
oneof whichis described below. Thesepaintings, with" Iftheone thrown into a pit of fireby a wicked man
intentof killingthinkof the powerof Kuan-yin,
together with two others whichhave been in the then shall the fire-pitturninto a pond."
possessionof the Museum forsomeyears,formthe "If one chased by a wicked man fall from the
nucleusof a collectionwhich,it is to be hoped, Diamond Mountainand thinkof the powerof Kuan-yin,
maybe augmented. then shall not even one hairbe hurt."
The paintingt fromTun-huang reproduced here- " If one happento fall intoa hugeoceanand, exposed
*For detailedaccountsand reproductions,see Serindia and Ruins to the danger of meetingdragons,fishes, and demons,
of Desert Cathay,by Aurel Stein,and Les Grottesde Touen-houang, think of the power of Kuan-yin, then shall even the
by Paul Pelliot. waves not destroyhim."
tReg. No. 27.570. Height, .880 millimeters(34X8inches); width,
.586 millimeters(23'V inches). This paintingmusthave been one of a
few specimenswhich were carriedto Lan-chouwhen the " greathidden * Ta-fan-pien-fo-pao-en-ching, Chap. 6; Hsien-yu-yin-yuan-ch.ng,
deposit"was discoveredin 1899, and was subsequently presentedto the Chap. 37. tChap. 25.
late Tuan Fang, Viceroyof Kiangsuand a celebratedcollector. *Miao-fa-lien-hua-ching, Chap.25.
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS BULLETIN XXV, 89

The lower registerincludes,in the center, a The paintingshows that the preliminary sketch
votiveinscription,dated 975, in which the donors in faint black having been made on figured silk
of the paintingofferthanksto Avalokitesvara for a (patternsso smalland delicate are hardlydiscem-
bountifulharvest,for enablingthem to repairthe ible), the detailswere then filledwith water-colors;
temple,and for his aid to them in attaininghigh then the outlineswere drawn in red and black.
monasticorders. Then follows a prayerto and The predominatingcolors are shades of red-
praiseof the Bodhisattva. To the properrightof yellowish,brownish,and purplish deep and light
this inscriptionappearsone of the donors,a nun green;the othercolorsare white,black,and yellow.
seated on a pedestal in front of trees,holding a The paintingis not by any meansexecutedwith
censerand attended by a young nun and a girl. the skillof an accomplishedartist,for,comingas it
According to the accompanyinglegend thischief does fromremoteTun-huang,it represents primarily
figurerepresentsChieh-ching,a nunof the superior a provincialart. Its importancelies in the fact that
orderat the templeLing-hsiu-ssu,who belongedto it embodiesthe traditionof a pictorialart- the
the Li familyand who executedthisvotivepicture. greatartof the T'ang- of which undisputedex-
On the otherside of the inscription
is seen another amplesare yet too few. There can be no question,
donor, Ming-chieh,also a nun of high order of however, that this is a well-documentedpainting
the same temple,seated on a mat before a tree, of greatimportanceto the Museumcollection.
holdinga lotusblossomand attendedby a girl. K. T.

Landscape with Two Fir Trees AlbrechtAltdorfer


HoratioGreenoughCurtisFund

A Landscape Etching by Altdorfer and challengedall who have sought to wear the
of nature.
laurelsof the Dutch masteras interpreters
A MONG theimportant prints
recently
acquired In the 1520's there was no blazed trail in
by the MuseumAlbrechtAltdorfer's Land- landscapeetching. There was indeed very little
scape with Two Fir Treesdeservesa passing etching. The mediumthenin itsawkwardinfancy
notice,bothon accountof itshistorical
placein the had only justbeen taken overfromthe armourers
development of landscapeart and as a highly and theirpracticeof decoratingweapons. Mate-
successfulpioneereffortby the most versatileof rialswere crudeand haphazardlyused. Engravers
Durer'scontemporaries. The landscapeswhich trainedto the preciselayingof lines on wood or
Rembrandt producedabouta hundredyearslater copperapparentlydid not relish the unaccustomed
have rightlycommandedthe admiration of the freedomof the needle or the vagariesattendantto
studentand the respectfulattentionof the public biting. As earlyas 15 15 Durerhad executedan
overa considerable period. Their"modernity"etchingon iron,subsequentlyproducingfive others,
has long been a hackneyedcatchword, whilein but the mediumseemed at variancewith his more
methodandessencetheyhaveconsistently inspired methodicalturn of mind. The signatureof Urs