Gathering of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Historical period(s)
Northern Qi dynasty, 550-577
Limestone with traces of pigment
H x W: 120.8 x 340 cm (47 9/16 x 133 7/8 in)
China, Hebei province, Fengfeng, southern Xiangtangshan, Cave 2
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Gallery 17: Promise of Paradise
Sculpture, Stone


bodhisattva, Buddha, Buddhism, cave, China, halo, lotus, Northern Qi dynasty (550 - 577), relief, temple

Before 1920
Removed from Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan, Fengfeng, Handan Municipality, Hebei Province by unknown party [1]

By 1920 to 1921
Lai-Yuan & Company, New York, Pekin, Shanghai, and Paris acquired from an unknown source [2]

From 1921
Freer Gallery of Art purchased from Lai-Yuan & Co. in installments, the first of which was issued in May 1921 [3]

[1] In the very early in the 20th century, the Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan suffered extensive damage and theft. The reliefs were removed from Cave 2 of the Southern group prior to 1920 when the Japanese team of Tokiwa and Sekino surveyed the site. See Shina Bukkyo Shiseki, Tokyo, 1927, vol. 3, pp. 53 ff., the two reliefs are not mentioned at all. J. Keith Wilson and Daisy Yiyou Wang outline when figures and fragments were removed from Xiangtangshan in “The Early-Twentieth-Century ‘Discovery’ of the Xiangtangshan Caves” in Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan (Smart Museum of Art. Chicago IL with Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington DC, 2010), 125-126.

[2] Lai-Yuan & Company, New York had this object and another large relief carving (F1921.2) in their possession in October 1920, see: Letter from Charles D. Walcott, Secretary of Smithsonian to Colonel Frank J. Hecker of Detroit, February 15, 1921, copy in object file. On November 22, 1920, Lai-Yuan & Company offered these pieces to the nascent Freer Galley of Art when they sent a letter quoting prices, see letters unsigned (likely from Katherine N. Rhoades) to Y.Z. Li, November 24 and December 8, 1920, copies in file. Lai-Yuan and company describes these objects as “Two Huge Archaic Stone Slabs of Norther Wei Dynasty,” see object descriptions, copy in object file.

[3] On March 21, 1921, Lai-Yuan & Company sent this object, F1921.2, and F1921.3 to the Freer Gallery of Art via railroad. The objects arrived on March 29, however, the two stone relief sculptures, F1921.1 & F1921.2, were damaged. Lai-Yuan & Company completed repairs on these objects in November 1922 (for entire exchange regarding damage and repair, see correspondence in object file).

The Freer Gallery of Art paid for the objects in instalments, the first of which was issued in May 1921 and the final on January 10, 1922, see letter from C. T. Loo to Miss. K. N. Roades, May 4, 1921 and unsigned letter (likely from Dr. Lodge) to “Gentlemen,” Lai-Yuan & Company, January 10, 1922, copies in object file.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Lai-Yuan & Company ca. 1915-April 1921


The jeweled trees and lush scenery suggest a gathering of Buddhas, bodhisattvas (enlightened beings), and blessed souls, perhaps in one of the four directional Buddhist paradises. Traces of color on the stone hint at the brilliance of the mural, which was originally painted with gold and bright colors.The relief-sculpture mural most likely once decorated a stupa-pillar, or large square shaft, attached to the center of the rear wall of one of the caves at Southern Xiangtangshan, a court-sponsored Buddhist cave-temple created during the Northern Qi dynasty. Several scholars suggest that the mural came from Cave 2 at Southern Xiangtangshan. A related object in the Freer's collection is F1921.2.

Published References
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales. Silk Road Saga: The Sarcophagus of Yu Hong. p. 18.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 38.
  • Sonya S. Lee. Surviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture. Hong Kong. pp. 62-63, fig. 1.26.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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