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Identification and Creation
Object Number
1943.54.1
Title
Maitreya's Paradise
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
banner, painting
Date
945 CE
Places
Creation Place: East Asia, China, Gansu province, Dunhuang
Period
Five Dynasties period, 907-960
Culture
Chinese
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Ink and color on ramie. Reportedly retrieved from Dunhuang, Gansu province.
Dimensions
H. 175 x W. 115 cm (68 7/8 x 45 1/4 in.)
Provenance
Grenville L. Winthrop (1864-1943) purchased from Yamanaka & Co., New York
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
1943
Object Number
1943.54.1
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Label Text: Buddhist Art: The Later Tradition (1993) , written 1993
According to Buddhist tradition, Maitreya (Chinese, Mi-le) is the Buddha of the Future, destined to succeed Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) as the Enlightened One in the next age. Until then, Maitreya resides in the Tusita Heaven as a bodhisattva, waiting to descend to Jambudvipa (the earth) to be born into the ideal kingdom of the Cakravartin. In this utopian land, where there is no crime and no illness and where human beings live to a ripe old age, Maitreya will attain enlightenment. Thereupon the Future Buddha will preach three times under the nagapuspa tree, converting countless people on each occasion. Maitreya was popularly worshipped in China from the fifth century onward. Because of this association with the ideal kingdom of the Cakravartin, worship of Maitreya was often connected with politically inspired messianic cults. From Tun-huang, this simplified version of Maitreya’s paradise depicts only the Future Buddha—identified by his “European” pose, in which he sits with legs pendant—accompanied by disciples and bodhisattvas. This painting shows Maitreya preaching from a terracelike structure above a lotus pond, the scene symbolizing one of the three assemblies in which he will preach. The lotus pond is often associate with paradise imagery in Buddhist iconography. Dates in 945, the dedicatory inscription below the terrace states that the painting was commissioned by the Li family (prominent in the Tun-huang region) as a meritorious deed, and it offers a prayer for the security of the nation, the prosperity of the citizenry, the well-being of the Li family and its descendants, and the rebirth of deceased ancestors into paradise. Images of six male and five female donors from the Li family appear in the lowest register.

Publication History

De Ma, 散藏美国的五件敦煌绢画, Dunhuang Research (Lanzhou, Gansu), 1999, Issue 02, pp.170-175, pp.170-175

Rei Sasaguchi, "A Dated Painting From Tun-Huang In The Fogg Museum", Archives of Asian Art (1972 - 1973), vol. XXVI, pp. 26-49

Matthew Brack, "A Technical Study of Portable Tenth-Century Paintings from Dunhuang in US Collections" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 2010), Unpublished, pp. 1-60 passim

Exhibition History

Women and the Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/10/1994 - 03/05/1995

32Q: 2740 Buddhist II, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/15/2016 - 05/31/2017

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu