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Chinese Buddhist Art, 10th–15th Centuries

March 30–September 30, 2018

Gallery 225, Main Building


About the Exhibition

In the centuries after Buddhism was introduced to China in the early part of the Han dynasty (AD 25–220), the style of Chinese Buddhist art developed its own unique characteristics. Spanning nearly 600 years—from the Five Dynasties (907–960) to the early part of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)—Chinese Buddhist Art, 10th–15th Centuries explores this evolution with rarely exhibited works from the Museum’s collection that depict significant Buddhist subjects, including bodhisattvas, arhats, and lotuses.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a wall painting depicting the Seated Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin) that once decorated a temple hall in northern China during the Five Dynasties period. One of the oldest and largest surviving works of its kind, the wall painting was given to the Museum by C.T. Loo, the preeminent dealer of Chinese art and artifacts during the first half of the 20th century. Also on view are four hanging scrolls, including a pair illustrated with lotuses, and a painted wooden sculpture of a seated arhat that has never been exhibited at the Museum.

Gallery 225 is devoted to the periodic rotation of East Asian works on silk and paper and related objects. Chinese Buddhist Art, 10th–15th Centuries is on view from March 30 to September 30, 2018. This exhibition is curated by Philip Hu, curator of Asian art.

Large print labels will be available for your own device or at the Taylor Hall Information Center on exhibition opening.

Seated Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
中國・五代・後周・河南省溫縣大吳村慈勝寺壁畫 《結跏趺坐觀音菩薩像》 Seated Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin) (detail), c.952; Chinese, Five Dynasties period; ink and colors on primed mud-wall construction; 68 7/8 x 50 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of C.T. Loo 11:1951
Seated Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin)

This fragment of a mural painting depicts one of the many manifestations of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, or Guanyin in Chinese. The deity is shown seated in the cross-legged lotus position for the purpose of meditation. Behind him is a circular halo indicating his divine status. The Principal identifying attribute of this popular bodhisattva of mercy and compassion is the small image of the Amitābha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, set into the front of his elaborate crown. Theologically, bodhisattvas are usually gendered as male, thus the face of this bodhisattva is shown with a wispy mustache.

In addition to the 33 manifestations of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, the deity may also be represented in another six forms that correspond to this manifestations to protect the six realms of reincarnation within the Esoteric or Tantric branch of Buddhismean. These are the Divine Guanyin for being in hell; the Thousand-armed Guanyin for hungry ghosts; the Horse-headed Guanyin for animals; the Eleven-headed Guanyin for bellicose demons; the Pure Guanyin for humans; and the Wish-fulfilling Wheel Guanyin for heavenly beings. This painting most likely represents the root form of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (in Chinese, Sheng Guanyin, meaning the "Divine Guanyin"). If this is the case, then the proper right hand (on the left side), whose painted traces have been lost, would have held a lotus flower as its main attribute.

中國・五代・後周・河南省溫縣大吳村慈勝寺壁畫 《結跏趺坐觀音菩薩像》 Seated Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin) (detail), c.952; Chinese, Five Dynasties period; ink and colors on primed mud-wall construction; 68 7/8 x 50 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of C.T. Loo 11:1951
Fragment from a Larger Series

The fragment came from a series of mural paintings, once part of the mid-10th century interior decoration of a Chinese Buddhist temple hall from the Five Dynasties period (907-960). Based on research conducted at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, by the late scholar of Chinese painting, Wai-kam Ho, the mural paintings are believed to be from Cisheng Temple. This structure is/was located in Dawu Village, Wen County, Jiaozuo municipal region, Henan province, not far from the border from Shanxi province to the north.

In 1932, 22 mural fragments representing 27 figures were removed from the ruins of the temple hall. These included the following: Four fragments each depicting various seated manifestations of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin) and a fifth one showing a seated Bodhisaatva Āvāśagarbha (Xukongzang); 11 fragments depicting 16 standing attendant bodhisattvas; and six fragments each depicting an apsaras (celestial being) in flight.

Four of the 22 mural fragments eventually found their way to the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, but 18 of them were purchased by the Chinese dealer C.T. Loo (Lu Qinzhai; 1880-1957), who had established himself in France in 1902. Loo had them shipped to Paris, where they were subsequently installed in the large entrance hall of his renowned pagoda-style gallery at 48, rue de Courcelles, between 1926 and 1928.

Anna Rice Cooke (1853-1934), founder of the Honolulu Museum of Art was the first to make a purchase from this group of mural fragments. Mrs. Cooke acquired a section depicting standing attendant bodhisattvas and she donated it to the newly established museum in 1928.

Attendant Bodhisattva
Attendant Bodhisattvas; Chinese, Later Zhou (951-960); ink and color on plaster; 70 7/8 x 31 7/8 x 1 9/16 inches; Princeton University Art Museum, Museum purchase, Carl Otto von Kienbusch Jr., Memorial Collection y1952-41
Attendant Bodhisattva
Two Bodhisattvas Burning Ritual Incense; Chinese, Five Dynasties (907-960 C.E.); ink and color on clay; 69 x 35 1/2 inches; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Mr. C.T. Loo, 50-64 A; Photo: Jamison Miller
Collections & Exhibitions

During the second World War, C.T. Loo took refuge in New York, where he also had a gallery and continued to deal in Chinese art and antiquities. In 1946, when Loo returned to Paris for one of his annual visits, he found his gallery in less-than-ideal conditions. He decided it would be better to send the remaining mural paintings to the United States, where he hoped that they would be better appreciated and find permanent homes.

In 1948, most of L00's mural fragments arrived in New York. They were then catalogued and described in an essay by Lindsay Hughes Cooper (1908-1997) in preparation for the 1949 exhibition Chinese Frescoes of Northern Sung at the gallery of C.T. Loo & Co., Inc. The exhibition subsequently traveled to a number of American musuems, including the Art Institute of Chincago (February 1–March 19, 1950). The most well preserved among the large mural paintings of seated bodhisattvas. which depicts the Cintāmani-cakra Avalokiteśvara (Wish-fulfilling Wheel Guanyin), was purchased by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, and a smaller one depicting two attendant bodhisattvas was acquired by the Princeton University Art Museum.

In 1950, soon after the establishment of the People's Republic of China led to the lack of sources for Chinese art and antiquities, C.T. Loo chose to liquidate his gallery business in New York. Between 1950 and 1952, a number of the remaining mural paintings were donated to American institutions, among them the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Minneapolois Institute of Art, and the Toledo Museum of Art. Still other works amon Loo's 18 mural paintings eventually entered the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washingto D.C., and the Musée Guimet, Paris.

Visit Gallery 225 to view Chinese Buddhist Art, 10th-15th Centuries

March 30 – September 30, 2018