One of the most amazing aspects of Buddhist murals condition survey is that it does not get boring. We are constantly discovering more details and quirks. While a regular, sharp-eyed museum visitor can see many of these details, some are impossible to truly appreciate without being fifteen feet tall and two feet from the mural. Take for example the design on the instrument being held by a female figure to the left of the Buddha in Tejaprabha and Assembly (C492).
Anyone can see there is a pattern on its surface, but this Chinese lute (also called a pipa) is simply too high off the ground for anyone to discern the small and intricate design.
However there are many other details, some right at eye level for many of our visitors, which go unnoticed due to the overwhelming nature of the murals. Towards the center of C492 the tiered base on which the Buddha sits has what appears to be a winged monk incorporated into the design
This could be a human-headed bird referred to as a kalavinka or karyobinga. There is similar imagery depicted in a related mural at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Fabrics worn by the figures in these murals were also meticulously executed. They could easily be simple solid colors and no one would consider them less than ornate, yet in many cases there are layers of clothes that are decorated as if to represent embroidered fabric. If you look closely you can see a figure and a lion in the example below from Bhaisajyaguru and Assembly (C688).
So next time you are in the Rotunda, take a longer look at the little things. You may find something that even we haven’t noticed yet!
Acknowledgements: Work on the Buddhist Mural Conservation Survey in supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and Michael Feng and Winnie Chin Feng.