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This mural composed of three long strips tells the story of Prince Mahasattva sacrificing himself to feed a hungry tiger. The viewers should follow an S-shaped sequence starting from the upper right corner to appreciate this mural. And on each section of the three, mountains and groves form half-hidden S-shaped lines to further divide these strips into smaller parts.

The painting begins with an outing of the Prince and his two brothers, with scenes of them on the
back of galloping horses and also at rest in the shades of trees. There is also a tiger chasing a deer in the grove. This section creates a relaxed atmosphere, in which the creator(s) concentrate(s) on the dynamic gestures of the characters with both face-on illustrations and profiles. The middle strip is the climax of the entire mural. The Prince saw a tiger dying of hunger. In great sympathy for the tiger, the Prince bled his neck and threw himself to the tiger twice. In the third strip, the two brothers galloped to report to the king after seeing their little brother’s dead body. The king then ordered to build a pagoda to enshrine the Prince’s left bones. In this section, the tragic tone of this painting is accentuated by the running gesture of the second elder brother in grief and shock, and the trees tilted by wind caused by galloping horses. The genius of the creator(s) is self-evident in these details.

Details

  • Title: Jātaka of Prince Mahasattva(right)
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date: 581
  • Provenance: Cave 428 of Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, Gansu Province
  • Medium: mural
  • Dynastic period: Northern Zhou Dynasty

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