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0022 The Thousand Buddhas : vol.1
The Thousand Buddhas : vol.1 / Page 22 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000188
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portion is reproduced on Plate i, and another portion on Plate II. Here there is a similar delicate expressiveness of drawing, combined with a glowing animation of varied colour. The picture is full of exquisite detail. Note the life and charm, for instance, in the figure seated with her back to us in the window of the high pavilion in the upper right-hand portion, next the border (Pl. I). Here again is a master of individual temperament.

In both of these pictures the artist has been able to control his complex material and multitude of forms into a wonderful harmony, without any restlessness or confusion ; and we are taken into an atmosphere of strange peace, which yet seems filled with buoyant motion and with floating strains of music.

None of the other pictures is, as art, quite on this level, the tendency being for the quality of the workmanship to be inadequate to the conception and design. The two grand fragments illustrated on Plates Iv and v ; the Avalokitesvara (Pl. xx) ; the Vaisravana crossing the ocean (Pl. xLv) are perhaps nearest. And next would come such examples as the Avalokite§vara in Glory (Pl. xvii) and other representations of the same Bodhisattva (Pls. xviii, xix, xxi), and some of the Paradise pictures, and banners ; but as we gradually descend the scale, an insensitive execution contrasts more and more with the dignity and grandeur of the design. These were not great painters, but they belonged to a great school. In such a picture as the Two Forms of Avalokite§vara (Pl. xv) we feel that if only the rather inanimate workmanship corresponded to the grandeur of the design, we should be in presence of a masterpiece. We have a hint at least of what majesty the Tang masters must have been capable.

This group of paintings gives to the collection found at Tun-huang an artistic importance quite beyond that of any of the groups of works of art discovered by various expeditions in Turkestan ; and it is worth while to examine them a little more closely.

The flooding wave of Indian religion and Indian art, after traversing a region of inferior cultures, meets in China for the first time an established art of original power and native genius. The Indian religion, in spite of vicissitudes and rebuffs, takes a firm hold on the Chinese. Buddhist paintings are demanded of the great masters. Of what character is the resulting art ?

We are unable to say what the earliest treatment of Buddhist themes by Chinese artists was like. Buddhist images were introduced from India as early as the first century A.D., and were eagerly sought for and studied in succeeding times. Plate xiv—the original of which is, so far as we know, unique—is of singular interest ; for it consists of a group of drawings after Indian Buddhist statues just such as the great pilgrim of the seventh century, Hsüantsang, might have brought back from his long journeyings among the sacred sites of India. In the fourth century the famous painter Ku Rai-chih painted, we know, many Buddhist subjects, but neither the Admonitions' in the British Museum, nor the L6-shen Fu in the Freer Collection, shows any trace of Buddhist or Indian influence ; on the contrary, they show the purely native style of China in its integrity.

That purely native style is found in the paintings we are examining, but not as a rule in the treatment of the main subjects. Many of the large pictures of Paradise have borders on either side, divided into compartments, in which are painted scenes from the Jatakas or stories of the former lives of Buddha. One is reminded of the predella pictures of an Italian altar-piece. Plate I affords a good example, showing part of the right-hand border of the picture. And here the figures, the dresses, the landscape, the style of drawing, the spacing, are all Chinese. Were it not for the subject-matter, no one would dream of suggesting any influence from India. In the small banners, these Jataka episodes form sometimes the entire subject, three or more scenes being usually painted one above the other. Examples are reproduced on Plate xii, Plate xiii, and Plate xxxvii. On these banners we find scenes from the legend of Sakyamuni in his last life on earth ; his conception by his mother, his birth in the Lumbini garden, his first steps, his athletic feats as a boy ; his first meeting with death and sickness ; his flight from the palace at midnight. Even here everything is Chinese : types, costume, architecture, pictorial conventions ; it is only after Gautama has taken up his mission and begun to teach that he is represented in Indian guise, according to the traditions derived from Gandhara.