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

Celestial 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 1985.1.325.7
Part of a divine assembly listening to the Buddha's sermon, these groups of celestial figures originally appeared along the top borders of larger sermon scenes. The artist variously angled the heads to create a lively composition and rendered the facial features with simple, elegant lines. Each celestial being is adorned with a halo; several also wear elaborate headdresses decorated with ribbons of dotted, perhaps pearl-covered, textiles. Closely related figures can be seen in the exhibition Luxury Arts of the Silk Route Empires.