The central figure delicately executed in fine brushstrokes is of Vimalakīrti (Ch. Weimo, J. Yuima), a layperson who lived during Śākyamuni Buddha’s lifetime. The technique used here is known as baimiaohua ( J. hakubyōga), or “plain sketch,” and this painting is said to be by Li Gonglin (also known as Longmian Jushi, 1049–1106), a literati painter from the end of the Northern Song dynasty, who was known to be a master of this technique. The work bears a striking resemblance to another image of Vimalakīrti preserved in Tōfuku-ji Temple also purportedly by Li Gonglin. The brush lines here, however, are milder and gentler, and the two paintings leave
very different impressions; though of comparable workmanship, they are of differing styles.
The scene here of Vimalakīrti and a celestial maiden scattering flowers comes from the Vimalakīrti Sutra and refers to Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva’s visit to Vimalakīrti during an illness. A full understanding of this scene extends to considering Dong Qichang’s (1555–1636) appraisal of the Jin-dynasty painter Ma Yunqing’s scroll painting Weima yanjiao tujuan (Vimalakīrti Preaching; The Palace Museum, Beijing) as a work by Li Gonglin. That many of the Vimalakīrti images have traditionally been attributed to Li Gonglin attests to literati painters who lived
during the transitional period from “plain sketch” to ink painting, finding ancient literati and Vimalakīrti as ideal subjects for figure painting.
In the early Edo period, Kano Yasunobu (1614–1685) signed the box with a note of authentication, confirming that the painting was by Li Gonglin; both items were then preserved by the Kuroda family (former daimyo of the Fukuoka domain).