Avalokiteshvara as Guide of Souls, ink and colours on silk


British Museum

British Museum

The figure of the Buddha Amitabha in the headdress clearly identifies this figure as Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. He is leading the soul of a female devotee to the halls of paradise, depicted at the top of the painting by three bands each with tiny buildings. Both Avalokiteshvara and his follower are supported on clouds. He holds a censer in his left hand, while in his right hand he holds a long hooked staff from which a banner is suspended. The streamers are adorned with small diamonds of gold and the main panel of the banner simulates writing in red. The aristocratic lady who follows behind is drawn on a smaller scale. She wears a splendid coat with decorative roundels, a common feature of textiles from the late Tang dynasty. This can be seen on the patches of kasaya, Buddhist monastic robes.Despite the blank cartouche, we know from another titled painting (also in the Stein Collection, British Museum) that this work is of a type known as Yinlu pu, a 'Bodhisattva Guide of Souls'. This was a popular theme from the late Tang until the early Song Dynasty (ninth-tenth century). A work like this was probably offered by a deceased person's family to ease the passage of their soul to paradise.

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  • Title: Avalokiteshvara as Guide of Souls, ink and colours on silk
  • Date Created: 901/950
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 84.80cm; Width: 54.70cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: painted
  • Subject: buddha; bodhisattva; paradise
  • Registration number: 1919,0101,0.46
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Qian Fo Dong. Excavated/Findspot
  • Period/culture: Five Dynasties
  • Material: silk
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Collected by Stein, Marc Aurel


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