Puxian / Bodhisattva Samanthabadra , 1315
Ink on Paper
41 1/8 in. x 23 3/4 in. (104.39 cm x 60.3 cm)
The painting bears an early Yuan Dynasty reign date. It has been repaired, and is a very nice piece. The red seals are probably all collectors’ seals, and may deserve further research to find their owners. It is in the very light style of painting done in the 14th century, by artists such as Wang Zhenpeng. The painting appears to be older than the signature at the lower left. There is a Qianlong seal (1736-1795) in the upper center. There may be some record of the object in the Imperial collection records.
The painting is signed Sheng Hong and dated 1315 at the lower left. Sheng Hong was an early Yuan dynasty professional painter of Hangzhou capable of handling various subjects, including figures. Nothing by him survives today, to the best of my knowledge. Sheng Hong is probably best known as the father of Sheng Mou, a well-known and prolific artist of the 14th century. As I commented earlier, the signature, unfortunately, does not inspire confidence. It looks like something added later. This is a high quality painting that deserves more study. This style of painting—fine-lined so-called “baimiao” (“plain painting” in monochrome)—became fashionable after Li Gonglin in the Northern Song period (late 11th century). There are a few practitioners during the Yuan, including the afore-mentioned Wang Zhenpeng (who tended to use it in a more fastidious, detailed fashion than the literati). This painting echoes the Li Gonglin tradition, but it could have been painted after the Yuan period. Late Ming (late-16th-early 17th century), when Ding Yunpeng was active, is another possible period for the painting. I am pretty certain that this is a youthful portrayal of Manjusri on the six-tusked elephant.
Professor Peter Sturman, University of California, Santa Barbara
Inscription: In a winter month of the second year of the Yanyou era (1315), Sheng Hong made [this].
Seals: Top center – seal of the Qianlong emperor
Two seals in the lower right corner: top totally illegible, bottom one has one of three
Seven seals in the lower left, top to bottom, left to right : 1)?? ; 2) illegible ; 3) illegible ; 4) illegible ; 5) illegible ; 6) illegible; 7) ????
Professor Kathleen M. Ryor, Carleton College
Doubtful signature of Sheng Hong
Ch'ien Lung seal in the upper center. Red collector's (7) seals in the lower left. Signed in the lower left.
Ink brushed on paper, mounted on beige damask silk with ebony end knobs.
Paintings with delicate line drawings (Chinese: baimiao) were quite popular during the Yuan Dynasty, especially for religious imagery such as this imaginary portrait of Samantabhadra (Puxian), the bodhisattva associated with Buddhist teachings, monastic practice and meditation. He is often depicted riding a white elephant with six tusks, a protector of the Lotus Sutra text in which the bodhisattva is described. According to Chinese traditions, washing an elephant (xiang) was symbolic of washing away (xiang) worldly illusions in the quest for true understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.
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