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.
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北宋 佚名 抄本《維摩詰經》 卷
Title:The Vimalakirti Sutra
Artist:Unidentified artist Chinese, early 12th century
Period:Northern Song dynasty (960–1127
Date:dated January 13, 1119
Medium:Handscroll; gold and silver on purple silk
Dimensions:11 in. × 26 ft. 7/8 in. (27.9 × 794.7 cm)
Credit Line:From the Collection of A. W. Bahr, Purchase, Fletcher Fund, 1947
Inscription: Artist’s inscriptions
1. 1 column in standard script, undated (at the left end of the painting in the beginning of the scroll):
A Vimalakirti preaching scene from the Kaiyuan reign era (713-741).
2. 521 columns in standard script (including a 9-column transcription of a colophon by Yin Huifu 尹輝富 at the end), dated 1119:
[The text of chapter 5 through chapter 9 of the Vimalakirti Sutra is not translated.]
The Prime Minister of the Dali Kingdom, Gao Taiming, had this Vimalakirti Sutra scroll produced with deep sincerity for Ambassador Zhong of the Great Song dynasty, wishing him, upon his return to court as ordered, the best of fortune and career success and no accident or worry along his perilous journey through the mountains. Gratefully under her divine grace, we hope the distant Chinese state will never be disconnected from us in the coming myriads of years.
Recorded in the ninth year of the Wenzhi reign era, the first day of the last winter month of the wuxu year [January 13, 1119]. Produced under the supervision of Yin Huifu (active early 12th c.), Abbot of the Foding Si Monastery.
Nara National Museum. "Depictions of Buddhist Scriptures," April 28, 1990–May 27, 1990.
Zurich. Museum Rietberg. "Buddhist Art from Yunnan Province "Der Goldschatz der Drei Pagoden"," May 4, 1991–July 12, 1991.
Lawrence. Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas. "Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850–1850," August 28, 1994–October 9, 1994.
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. "Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850–1850," November 16, 1994–January 11, 1995.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Resonant Image: Tradition in Japanese Art (Part One)," 1997–98.
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New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Printed Image in China: From the 8th to the 21st Centuries," May 5–July 29, 2012.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection (Rotation Two)," May 7–October 11, 2016.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Another World Lies Beyond: Chinese Art and the Divine," August 24, 2019–January 5, 2020.
Li Lin-Ts'an 李霖燦. Nanzhao Dali Guo xin ziliao de zonghe yanjiu 南詔大理國新資料的綜合研究 (A comprehensive study of the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms in the light of newly discovered materials) Taipei: National Palace Museum, 1982, pp. 3–9, 65–66, pl. 1.
Fong, Wen C. Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, 8th–14th Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, pp. 328–29, pl. 72.
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