Buddhist stele depicting debate between Weimo and Wenshu

Historical period(s)
Possibly Northern Qi dynasty, possibly 550-577
Medium
Dolomitic limestone with traces of pigment
Dimensions
H x W x D (a): 53.6 x 26.4 x 6.7 cm (21 1/8 x 10 3/8 x 2 5/8 in)
Geography
China
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1911.410a-b
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Sculpture, Stone
Type

Buddhist sculpture

Keywords
apsara, Buddhism, China, fly whisk, lettering, monk, Northern Qi dynasty (550 - 577), scepter
Provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable
Label

This intriguing stela, or tablet, depicts a famous debate between Weimo (Sanskrit, Vimalakirti), the supremely wise Buddhist layman, and Wenshu (Sanskrit, Manjusri), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. This was a popular Buddhist subject in China in the late fifth and sixth centuries, yet in Chinese sculpture there is no analogous representation of the two figures as seen here. This is the only known sculpture of this scale that features the debate as the sole focus of the work; usually it appeared as a detail with other figures present.

In the stela, the figures sit behind low armrests. Weimo, on the right, is dressed as an elderly Chinese gentleman, appropriate for his role as a wise lay Buddhist. He holds a fanlike whisk, a common attribute for those involved in intellectual discourse. The bodhisattva Wenshu, on the left, grasps a scepter. Flanking bodhisattvas and three small monks witness the proceedings, and two celestials fly above. On the base of the sculpture, an incense burner is bordered by kneeling monks and lotuses. On the rear of the tablet, the incised image of a Buddha and two monks may have been engraved (and originally painted) much later than the carving on the front.

Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
SI Usage Statement

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.