Kshitigarbha

Artist: Unidentified Artist

Period: Goryeo dynasty (918–1392)

Date: first half of the 14th century

Culture: Korea

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk

Dimensions: Image: 33 1/4 × 14 1/2 in. (84.5 × 36.8 cm)
Overall with mounting: 79 × 25 3/8 in. (200.7 × 64.5 cm)
Overall with knobs: 79 in. × 27 1/4 in. (200.7 × 69.2 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Gift of Horace Havemeyer, 1929

Accession Number: 29.160.32

Description

The popularity of the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha (Chijang) in Koryō Pure Land Buddhism is demonstrated by the frequent depiction of the deity in devotional paintings. Kshitigarbha is most commonly portrayed as a monk holding a mendicant's staff and a wish-fulfilling jewel (cintamani), the light of which could illuminate even the darkest corners of hell. With the growing popularity of the Pure Land school at all levels of Korean society in the thirteenth century, during which time the peninsula suffered six invasions by Mongol armies, the promise of paradise for the faithful and the threat of hell for evil beings became increasingly attractive concepts. The image of Chijang standing on lotus-flower pedestals and holding his staff and cintamani represented to devotees his power over hell, from which he could deliver unfortunate beings and lead them to paradise.

The variety of colors used in this painting—from the malachite green of the gold-edged nimbus and the bright cinnabar red of the underskirt to the bluish gray monk's robe and the dazzling gold of the textile patterns—provides striking contrasts. The rich ornamentation of the decorative motifs on the garment is executed with virtuosity. Despite such technical brilliance, however, the bodhisattva's face is somewhat precious, with narrowly set eyes and very small nose and lips, and the drapery is stiff and flat, with little suggestion of volume. These features, as well as the schematic curves of the garment and the pointed corners of the hemlines, indicate that this painting was made no earlier than the late fourteenth century.

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