From the Collection of A. W. Bahr, Purchase, Fletcher Fund, 1947
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 211
Throughout Buddhism’s early history in China, the ascetic aspects of the religion—the practice of celibacy and self-deprivation—came into conflict with the Chinese family system and social values. The Vimalakirti Sutra, celebrating the supremely wise layman Vimalakirti, provided canonical proof that enlightenment and salvation were possible even for believers who remained outside monastic orders.
In this scroll, which transcribes chapters 5 through 9 of the sacred text, the illuminated frontispiece portrays Vimalakirti seated on a dais preaching to a large audience. He is depicted with the attributes of a traditional Confucian scholar: long beard, fly whisk, and armrest. An inscription at the end of the scroll indicates that it was executed in remote southwest China, present-day Yunnan Province. Lavishly painted and written in gold and silver on purple silk, the scroll was commissioned by the prime minister of the independent kingdom of Dali as a gift for the Chinese ambassador.
Inscription: Artist’s inscription (512 columns in standard script)
Yin Huifu 尹輝富 (active early 12th c.), 9 columns in standard script, dated 1119: