Western Paradise of the Buddha Amitabha

High relief carving of Western Paradise. Amitabha presides over a lotus pond that contains flowers opening to reveal newborn souls. Numerous deities and celestial attendants fill in the tableau.

Historical period(s)
Northern Qi dynasty, 550-577
Medium
Limestone with traces of pigment
Dimensions
H x W: 159.3 x 334.5 cm (62 11/16 x 131 11/16 in)
Geography
China, Hebei province, Fengfeng, southern Xiangtangshan, Cave 2
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1921.2
On View Location
Freer Gallery 17: Promise of Paradise: Ancient Chinese Buddhist Sculpture
Classification(s)
Sculpture, Stone
Type

Sculpture

Keywords
abhaya mudra, Amitabha Buddha, Avalokitesvara, bodhisattva, Buddhism, cave, China, lotus, Mahasthamaprapta, meditation, Northern Qi dynasty (550 - 577), Pure Land, relief, sutra, temple, throne, tree
Provenance

Before 1920
Removed from Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan, Fengfeng, Handan Municipality, Hebei Province by unknown party [1]

By 1920 to 1921
Lai-Yuan & Company, New York, Pekin, Shanghai, and Paris acquired from an unknown source [2]

From 1921
Freer Gallery of Art purchased from Lai-Yuan & Co. in installments, the first of which was issued in May 1921 [3]

Notes:
[1] In the very early in the 20th century, the Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan suffered extensive damage and theft. The reliefs were removed from Cave 2 of the Southern group prior to 1920 when the Japanese team of Tokiwa and Sekino surveyed the site. See Shina Bukkyo Shiseki, Tokyo, 1927, vol. 3, pp. 53 ff., the two reliefs are not mentioned at all. J. Keith Wilson and Daisy Yiyou Wang outline when figures and fragments were removed from Xiangtangshan in “The Early-Twentieth-Century ‘Discover’ of the Xiangtangshan Caves” in Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan (Smart Museum of Art. Chicago IL with Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington DC, 2010), 125-126.

[2] Lai-Yuan & Company, New York had this object and another large relief carving (F1921.1) in their possession in October 1920, see: Letter from Charles D. Walcott, Secretary of Smithsonian to Colonel Frank J. Hecker of Detroit, February 15, 1921, copy in object file. On November 22, 1920, Lai-Yuan & Company offered these pieces to the nascent Freer Galley of Art when they sent a letter quoting prices, see letters unsigned (likely from Katherine N. Rhoades) to Y.Z. Li, November 24 and December 8, 1920, copies in file. Lai-Yuan and company describes these objects as “Two Huge Archaic Stone Slabs of Norther Wei Dynasty,” see object descriptions, copy in object file.

[3] On March 21, 1921, Lai-Yuan & Company sent this object, F1921.1, and F1921.3 to the Freer Gallery of Art via railroad. The objects arrived on March 29, however, the two stone relief sculptures, F1921.1 & F1921.2, were damaged. Lai-Yuan & Company completed repairs on these objects in November 1922 (for entire exchange regarding damage and repair, see correspondence in object file).

The Freer Gallery of Art paid for the objects in instalments, the first of which was issued in May 1921 and the final on January 10, 1922, see letter from C. T. Loo to Miss. K. N. Roades, May 4, 1921 and unsigned letter (likely from Dr. Lodge) to “Gentlemen,” Lai-Yuan & Company, January 10, 1922, copies in object file.

Previous Owner(s)

Lai-Yuan & Company ca. 1915-April 1921

Description

High relief carving of Western Paradise. Amitabha presides over a lotus pond that contains flowers opening to reveal newborn souls. Numerous deities and celestial attendants fill in the tableau.

Label

The Buddha of Infinite Light (Sanskrit, Amitabha), is lord of the Pure Land called the Western Paradise. Devotees believe that absolute faith in Amitabha entitles a person to be reborn in that paradise. In this mural, Amitabha presides over a pond and welcomes newly reborn souls who emerge from within lotus blossoms. This mural is among the earliest known depictions of the Western Paradise in Chinese art.  It is from the Southern Xiangtangshan Buddhist cave-temple site, Cave 2. The Xiangtangshan caves were located close to the city of Ye, the capital of the Northern Qi dynasty. Their carving was an imperially sponsored project. A related object in the Freer collection is F1921.1.

Published References
  • Red Pine. Why Not Paradise: The Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha. Spokane, WA. frontis and p. 56.
  • Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky. Making Sense of Buddhist Art & Architecture. London. .
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 78, vol. 1: p. 172.
  • , Katherine Crawford Luber, Alison J. Miller, Emily J. Sano, Lucie G. Teegarden. Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism. Exh. cat. San Antonio, TX. p. 27, fig. 2.4.
  • Masanori Nakayasu. "箜篌の研究:東アジアの寺院荘厳と絃楽器単行." Study of Kugo: East Asian temple solemn and Gengakk. Kyoto, Japan. p. 27, fig. 1-2.
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 36-37.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 38.
  • Ideals of Beauty: Asian and American Art in the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Thames and Hudson World of Art London and Washington, 2010. pp. 70-71.
  • Shakyamuni and Shinran. Exh. cat. Japan. p. 94, fig. 104.
  • Sonya S. Lee. Surviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture. Hong Kong. pp. 161-164, fig. 3.18.
  • Dorothy C. Wong. Chinese Steles: Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of Symbolic Form. Honolulu. p. 163, fig. 10.10.
  • Studies of Heian Period Gardens. no. 17, Japan. p. 204.
  • Jerome Ducor, Helen Loveday. La Sutra des Contemplations du Buddha Vie-Infinie. Biblioteques de l'ecole des Hautes etudes sciences religieuses 14S, . p. 277, fig. 19.
  • , Li Song, Wu Hung, Yang Hong. Chinese Sculpture. The Culture & Civilization of China New Haven. p. 280, figs. 3-83.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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