Buddhist stele depicting debate between Weimo and Wenshu

Historical period(s)
Possibly Northern Qi dynasty, possibly 550-577
Dolomitic limestone with traces of pigment
H x W x D (a): 53.6 x 26.4 x 6.7 cm (21 1/8 x 10 3/8 x 2 5/8 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Sculpture, Stone

Buddhist sculpture

apsara, Buddhism, China, fly whisk, lettering, monk, Northern Qi dynasty (550 - 577), scepter
Provenance research underway.

This intriguing stela, or tablet, depicts a famous debate between Weimo (Sanskrit, Vimalakirti), the supremely wise Buddhist layman, and Wenshu (Sanskrit, Manjusri), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. This was a popular Buddhist subject in China in the late fifth and sixth centuries, yet in Chinese sculpture there is no analogous representation of the two figures as seen here. This is the only known sculpture of this scale that features the debate as the sole focus of the work; usually it appeared as a detail with other figures present.

In the stela, the figures sit behind low armrests. Weimo, on the right, is dressed as an elderly Chinese gentleman, appropriate for his role as a wise lay Buddhist. He holds a fanlike whisk, a common attribute for those involved in intellectual discourse. The bodhisattva Wenshu, on the left, grasps a scepter. Flanking bodhisattvas and three small monks witness the proceedings, and two celestials fly above. On the base of the sculpture, an incense burner is bordered by kneeling monks and lotuses. On the rear of the tablet, the incised image of a Buddha and two monks may have been engraved (and originally painted) much later than the carving on the front.

Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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