Asia Society Museum presents a selection of 15 masterworks from the Asia Society’s renowned Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, depicting the “Eight Great Events” from the life of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha.
Works in the exhibition date from the second to eighteenth centuries and represent some of the finest examples of Buddhist art, drawn from the Asia Society’s Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection.
Buddhism, founded in India the late sixth century B.C.E., has assumed many different forms but generally draws from the life experiences of the Buddha, his teachings, and the “spirit” or “essence” of his teachings, (dharma), as models for religious life.
While the actual life events of the Buddha are not well documented, there are several legendary stories about significant moments in his life, which became codified in a visual language by around 100 AD. This exhibition is anchored by an illuminated manuscript from the great Indian Buddhist monastic learning center, Nalanda, depicting the “Eight Great Events” around which these legendary stories are centered, including:
- The Buddha’s princely birth as the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya of the Shakya warrior clan
- His defeat over the demon Mara and attainment of enlightenment
- The first turning of the wheel of dharma at Sarnath, representing the teaching of the Four Noble Truths
- Performing of miracles at Sravasti
- Descending from the heaven of thirty-three gods (Trayastrimsha Heaven) after preaching to the gods and his mother
- Taming the wild elephant Nagiri
- Receiving the loyal monkey’s gift of honey leading to the its rebirth as an enlightened being
- His death and attainment of parinirvana
The scenes illustrated in the exhibition began to appear by the second century in Mathura, in modern-day Uttar Pradesh, India, and within the Buddhist centers of the Gandharan Kingdom, areas in modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Several of the works in the exhibition just returned from a multivenue tour to New Orleans, LA; Jacksonville, FL; Chapel Hill, NC; Fort Worth, TX, and A Coruña, Spain, as part of the enthusiastically received exhibition Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon.
The exhibition is curated by Laura Weinstein, John H. Foster Associate Curator, Pre-Modern Art, Asia Society.