The Two Buddhist Murals from Guangshengsi Monastery

May 4, 2014

Mural showing Bhaisajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha. C688
Mural showing Tejaprabha, the Buddha of Blazing Light. C492

Two of the most fascinating objects in the Asian section are a pair of  murals reported to have come from Guangshengsi Monastery in southern Shanxi Province, China.   What makes them particularly interesting is the nature in which their provenance, date, and subject matter have fluctuated over the decades since they came into the museum.  This is partly due to the way scholarship works.  The murals came from a monastery that was believed to have multiple murals painted at different times.  When a scholar became interested in one of them, they would end up doing a survey of the other murals as well.  These other murals currently reside in the Royal Ontario Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum, and the Cincinnati Museum of Art.  Sometimes insight about one mural shed light on information about another. This has led to many academic articles with differing opinions about where they came from, who painted them (and when), and what is actually being depicted.   Over the next few months the museum is going to be blogging about the digitization and conservation of these two incredible pieces.  Just having high quality images of every inch of these murals will help us to better understand some of the hidden meanings behind them.  It is my goal to shed some light on the larger ideas behind these two murals and fill in some of the background information about them.  What texts are they based on?  Who are each of the figures in the murals?  What are they holding and why? These are just a few of the topics I will try to cover.  I also hope to raise a few questions (based on some of the research I have done) which can only be answered by our conservation team with the help of some cool technology.  Stay tuned for more.