I Spy with My Little Eye…

June 10, 2014

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).

Pipa Girl

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.

Lute Design comparison
Left: Detailed close-up image of the pipa in C492.
Right: Digital illustration of the 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

Monk in Base comparison
Left: Close up image of the design as visible on the base of the seat of the Buddha in C492. While a figure is clearly visible, some of the detail is not clear due to deterioration.
Right: The same image as to the left with the clearest lines highlighted.

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.

C:Scratchpad 056
This section of The Paradise of Maitreya wall painting on exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto includes a kalavinka as part of the heavenly scenery.

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).

Griffin illustration comparison2
Left: Close up of a general’s robe in the lower left portion of C688.
Right: Digital illustration of the remaining original lines.

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.