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Twenty-five Buddhist Figures of Perfect Wisdom from The Shurangama Sutra

Twenty-five Buddhist Figures of Perfect Wisdom from The Shurangama Sutra
Wu Bin (ca. 1550-ca. 1621), Ming dynasty
Album leaf, ink and colors on paper, 62.3 x 35.3 cm

This album depicts 25 Buddhist figures who had attained the secrets of "perfect wisdom." The paintings do not have the seal or signature of the artist, but colophons by Chen Jiru and Dong Qichang here indicate that Wu Bin painted them. The first leaf depicts an expanding ray of light emanating from the Buddha's head with a manifestation of a Buddha preaching the Law. The remaining leaves depict various bodhisattvas and disciples of the Buddha in different poses. The rocks and plants are depicted like angular crystallizations or with contorted branches and tendrils. The figures also have the appearance of foreigners, focusing on their mystical and unusual features. Wu Bin deviated from descriptions in the scriptures to emphasize the visual effect at the moment of perfected wisdom. In the Ming, people were familiar with the sutras, providing not only annotations and explanations but also in the habit of chanting them. This set of images is an important product of this trend. The title labels as they appear now are slightly incorrect, as Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) should be the 25th being of perfected wisdom.


Lohans

Lohans
Wu Bin (ca. 1550-ca. 1621), Ming dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper, 151.1 x 80.7 cm

This hanging scroll shows lohans (arhats) sitting on large rocks gazing at the unusual form of a dragon emerging from the clouds. The shapes of the rocks and clouds are quite extraordinary. At the top sits a figure wearing a red robe and holding a vase, probably referring to the lohan who had the power to make a spirit dragon appear. Records indicate that Wu Bin depicted 500 lohans for the Qixia Temple. After completing dozens of hanging scrolls, they later went into someone's collection and did not remain at the temple. Wu Bin's signature on this painting reads, "Bestowed at the Qixia Chan Temple as an offering." However, it also includes collection seals of Mi Wanzhong (ca. 1554-1631), suggesting it was one of the 500-lohan paintings that entered a private collection.


Landscape

Landscape
Wu Bin (ca. 1550-ca. 1621), Ming dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and light colors on paper, 282.6 x 57.5 cm

The upper right corner of this painting includes the seal and signature of Wu Bin corresponding to the year 1609. Pointed peaks are piled up one atop the other in this tall and narrow hanging scroll, featuring many horizontal screen-like connections. In this extraordinary vision of mountains and valleys beyond the realm of mortals, we still find scattered evidence of human activities and residences, creating an unusual landscape effect. Wu Bin specialized in dividing land forms into facets and then making them stand out. He then twisted the landscape into completely illogical constructs, forming paintings both magical yet also appearing realistic.


Record of Annual Events and Activities

Record of Annual Events and Activities
Wu Bin (ca. 1550-ca. 1621), Ming dynasty
(First six leaves only on display Oct. 1 to Nov. 8; latter six leaves only on display Nov. 9 to Dec. 25)

This album includes beautiful scenes associated with each of the twelve lunar months. Below the titles in seal script are impressions of Wu Bin's seals. The first part of the exhibit presents six paintings for the first half of the year: the Lantern Festival, playing on a swing, the silk market, bathing the Buddha, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the end of summer. The second part presents six for the latter half of the year: the Ghost Festival, appreciating the moon, ascending the heights, reviewing troops, enjoying the snow, and dispelling evil spirits. The scenery in the paintings is delicate and animated, the mountain forests unusual in form with coloring light and elegant, reflecting fine beauty and a skillful manner. The themes are arranged chronologically against the backdrops of Jiangnan scenery. The Lantern Festival, for example, features scenery associated with a city wall, gateway, and ornamental "lantern mountain," which are closely related to the city of Nanjing at the time. Ascending the heights reveals unusual mountain scenery, which scholars associate with Oxhead Mountain on the outskirts of Nanjing. In addition, the bathing of the Buddha at a temple, the storage of ice at a courtyard, appreciating the moon, reviewing troops, and enjoying the snow all correspond to anecdotes in Ming dynasty life. The emphasis placed on distant scenery creates an expansive effect, combining records of the year with beautiful scenery. Thus, the album combines records of the year with scenic local sites.