Freer Gallery of Art Arthur M Sackler Gallery Gallery Guide Cave as Canvas: Hidden Images of Worship along the ancient Silk Routes

Three figures
China, Kucha, Qizil, Cave 224, 4th–6th century c.e., Gypsum plaster with pigment, Long-term loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum; gift of John Gellatly, LTS 1985.1.325.15
This finely painted fragment features a trio of figures. An expressively painted seated figure of a fasting ascetic dominates the composition. The artist has depicted him in a stylized manner, carefully delineating his shrunken stomach and emaciated limbs. Behind him, a monk and perhaps a Brahmin (a member of the Hindu priestly caste) stretch their hands to the right, leading the viewer's eyes toward the Buddha (not shown). The doleful Brahmin makes direct eye contact with the viewer, an extremely rare device in Kuchean wall painting. The different ethnic origins of the three figures demonstrate the cosmopolitan culture of Kucha during this period.