I430 PAINTINGS FROM THE CAVES OF THE THOUSAND BUDDHAS [App. E
find just the same treatment of the subject of the Western Paradise as in the ninth- and tenth-century pictures of Tun-huang, where it was so favourite a theme.
The main point to grasp is that the tradition of Buddhist art which we first find formulated in Gandhâra, after assimilating certain minor elements (chiefly Iranian) in its passage across Eastern Turkestan, was transformed in China by the genius of that country's art, and was so transmitted to Japan. Those who fix their attention solely on the Indian and Hellenistic ingredients in this art may be inclined to conceive of the Buddhist pictorial tradition in China and Japan as merely a continuation of the art of Gandhâra. But, apart from the frescoes of Ajantâ, it is only in China and Japan that Buddhist painting rises to greatness ; and all that derives from Gandhâra in subject-matter and formula is subdued to the creative instinct of design by which the Chinese genius makes them its own.
For, before Buddhism was ever heard of in the empire, China had an original and powerful art, chiefly occupied with secular subjects. And the Tun-huang paintings, Buddhist as they are, throw light even on Chinese secular art. Look, for instance, at the three banners reproduced on PI. LXXIV. The central one represents the Seven Treasures ; and below are scenes of women washing the infant Buddha, and the Buddha's first steps. The two banners at the sides represent equally scenes from the Buddha legend ; his conception, birth, etc. Is it not remarkable that everything here is translated into Chinese terms : types, dress, architecture, landscape ? It is the same with all the Jataka scenes which are painted as borders to the large pictures of Paradise, as in Pl. LVI. That these sacred scenes should be given a character so entirely Chinese testifies to the confident healthy vigour of Chinese art. And here, too, we have a precious indication of the style of Tang painting in secular subjects.
This we hardly know from other sources. There are numberless descriptions of great pictures recorded, but of actual works which can be attributed to this period with any confidence, how very few have survived the succession of wars which have devastated China ! Among those few, moreover, how little that shows us what figure-painting in secular subjects was like ! The scenes from the Jataka stories, therefore, which border many of the Tun-huang pictures, and the banners portraying similar subjects, are of extraordinary interest : and besides these we have a whole series of portraits of donors, painted under votive pictures, just as in early European art. Here are slight materials, it is true ; but still they form a clue, and give us a kind of distant glimpse of the secular art of Tang. The fact that a few of the pictures bear dates adds immensely to their value as documents. The Buddha attended by Planetary Divinities (Pl. LXXI) bears a date corresponding to A.D. 897 ; the Four Forms of Avalokites`vara (Desert Cathay, ii. P1. VIII) a date corresponding to A.D. 864. Other dates found are of the ninth or beginning of the tenth century ; and comparison with the undated work leads us to the conclusion that the great majority of the paintings belong to the ninth century, though a few may possibly be earlier, and a few are later.
Of pre-T`ang painting we know nothing except the picture by Ku K`ai-chih, ` Admonitions of the Instructress in the Palace ', now in the British Museum, and the Lo-shen fu ' in the Freer collection in America, attributed to the same master. Even if these paintings be not allowed to be actually originals of the fourth century, they are demonstrably in the style and design of that time. The figures in the banner reproduced in the centre of PI. LXXIV remind us, not altogether remotely, of Ku K`ai-chih's women with their stately yet gracious carriage and buoyant flexile movement. But the Tang ideal of form is different ; it is massive rather than slender, the lines are not attenuated. Of complex figure-design the Jataka scenes, with their simple motives, indicate little, but we note in the best of them that beautiful use of spacing which is the peculiar idiom of Chinese art in its maturity. In the landscape backgrounds, slight as they are, we seem to see the kind of treatment on which the landscape of the old art of Japan, as shown in the scrolls of the Tosa School, was founded. And this is interesting, because it tends to show that even in this tradition, claimed to be exclusively Japanese, Chinese prototypes counted for much.
Returning now to the Buddhist element in these paintings, we may single out for particular mention the magnificent embroidery-picture reproduced on Pl. CIV. The reproduction gives inevitably a quite inadequate idea of the impressiveness of the original. In grandeur of design and beauty of colour this ranks as one of the very finest of the series ; and we can imagine how splendid must have been the painting which it copied. The large picture of Two Forms of Avalokitegvara (Thousand Buddhas, Pl. XV) has similar qualities of design, though the actual workmanship of the painting is rather callous and heavy. But in two or three of the Man/alas (see especially Thousand Buddhas, PI. III, and ibid. Pl. I, II), the workmanship, in its subtle modulation of line and