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

Two assemblies
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 1985.1.325.5
Originally from the left wall of the main chamber of Cave 224, this fragment preserves part of two different sermon scenes. On the left, an unclothed woman dances in front of an assembly of monks and devatas listening to the Buddha's preaching. The graceful arch of the blue-gowned woman beside her emphasizes the dancer's sinuous pose. This scene may allude to the story of the beautiful Shrimati with whom a Buddhist monk fell in love.

In spite of his renunciation of all worldly desires, the monk continued to mourn his beloved after her death. The Buddha used her story to demonstrate the impermanence of beauty and the futility of desire.

The similarity of the two bearded figures in the scene on the right may indicate that a single monk has been depicted twice. This visual technique condenses sequential narratives within a single image. In his first appearance, the monk stands, holding a long staff. He then kneels and looks up to the Buddha in adoration. The protruding ribs of the emaciated monk and his patched robe indicate his austere practice. A group of divine beings stands in the background.