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

Apsara
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 1985.1.325.16
This celestial being, a musician or dancer, is known as an apsara and is usually present when the Buddha preaches. Apsaras serve as supplementary figures on the ceiling and along the top edge of sermon scenes. They are typically shown flying through the air, their movement suggested by swirling scarves. Like other enlightened beings, apsaras are beyond gender; the artist has depicted this apsara with feminine features and a male torso. The white border at the top indicates that this fragment comes from the upper portion of a sermon scene rather than a ceiling.