Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Death of the Historical Buddha (Nehan-zu)

Muromachi period (1392–1573)
15th century
Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk
Image: 74 x 43 5/16 in. (188 x 110 cm) Overall with mounting: 114 1/2 × 56 in. (290.8 × 142.2 cm) Overall with knobs: 114 1/2 x 59 1/2 in. (290.8 x 151.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Susan Dwight Bliss, 1944
Accession Number:
Not on view
The story of the Buddha's death and final achievement of enlightenment is filled with both lingering sadness and joy. Having reached old age, he had his young disciple Ananda prepare a place for him between twin sala trees in the grove in Kushinagara. He then lay down on his right side with his head facing north, and his followers, along with a variety of supernatural beings, birds, beasts, and even his mother (descending from heaven at the upper right), gathered around him. They all grieved: "The light of the world is now put out." Even the plant kingdom was affected—the sala trees bloomed out of season and the forest was strangely silent. The Buddha addressed his followers:

Grieve not! The time is one for joy; no call for sorrow or for anguish here. No more shall I receive a body, all future sorrow now, forever, done away; it is not meant for you, on my account, forevermore, to encourage any anxious fear (Buddhacharita 1948-67).

And then he peacefully passed into nirvana.

In Japanese temples, the death of the Buddha (Nehan; Parinirvana in Sanskrit) is marked annually, in the middle of the second lunar month, with special rites and the hanging of large, tableau-like paintings, such as this fifteenth-century example. Here, Buddha's divine nature is represented by his large size relative to that of his attendants. The vivid portrayal of grief-stricken animals is unique to Japanese paintings of this event and reflects a particular sensitivity to nature's all-encompassing quality.
Related Objects

The Four Deities of Mount Kōya

Date: 16th century Medium: Hanging scroll; ink, color and gold on silk Accession: 2015.300.15 On view in:Not on view

Su Shi Riding a Donkey

Artist: Bokudō Sojun (Japanese, 1373–1459) Date: early 15th century Medium: Hanging scroll; ink and gold on paper Accession: 2015.300.49 On view in:Gallery 225

Emperor Xuanzong's Flight to Shu

Date: mid-12th century Medium: Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk Accession: 41.138 On view in:Gallery 210

Birds and Flowers of Summer and Autumn

Artist: Shikibu Terutada (Japanese, active mid–16th century) Date: mid-16th century Medium: Pair of hanging scrolls; ink and color on paper Accession: 2015.300.64a, b On view in:Not on view

Musk Cat

Artist: Uto Gyoshi (Japanese, active second half of 16th century) Date: second half of the 16th century Medium: Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper Accession: 2015.300.66 On view in:Not on view