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Twenty-Five Bodhisattvas Descending from Heaven

In this pair of paintings, twenty-five small music-making divinities, bejeweled and richly dressed in gold, float down from the heavens on diaphanous clouds. The divinities are bodhisattva attendants to Amida Buddha, who inspired in his followers the hope of eternal life in his Western Paradise. The pair would originally have flanked a painted image of Amida Buddha. The two groups of divinities are led on the right scroll by the bodhisattva Kannon, who holds a small lotus pedestal to receive the soul of the deceased, and on the left by Seishi, whose hands are held in the anjalimudra, the gesture of respect and salutation. The rest of the entourage play drums, a lute, koto, and other stringed instruments, and stand and dance on lotus pedestals as they float down on clouds, their long scarves and jewels swaying as they move. The figures are outlined in ink, their features delineated with fine, delicate lines, and painted in gold, their garments executed in the painstaking kirikane technique of cut-and-pasted gold leaf.

This painting expresses belief in the compassionate grace of Amida, who grants salvation to any believer who sincerely calls upon his name, and who descends from heaven to personally receive the soul of the believer at the moment of death.


(London Gallery, Ltd., Tokyo);

purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1986.