Bodhisattva of Wisdom (Mañjusri)

Creation date
Ming dynasty
silk, silk and gold wrapped threads
Mark Descriptions
ink inscription in Tibetan characters on back
17 3/8 x 7 5/8 in. | 44.0 x 19.5 cm.
Credit line
Martha Delzell Memorial Fund
Accession number
Not Currently On View
Private collection, New York; [J. J. Lally & Co.]; IMA 1992.
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

This panel depicts Mañjusri, one of the most important Buddhist deities and the personification of wisdom and knowledge. Mañjusri was assigned the duty of setting in motion the wheel of the Dharma, that is, the teachings of the Buddha. Befitting his role as a proponent of the Buddha’s teachings, Mañjusri carries a sword in his right hand, symbolizing intelligence and the power of the intellect to cut through ignorance and doubt. His left hand is in the mudra, or gesture, of turning-the-wheel-of-law, an affirmation of the Buddha. An umbrella—a symbol of protection and royalty—floats above the figure. Below him, four Buddhist symbols are presented on lotus flowers. Brilliant polychrome silk threads were used to render large areas of color in a satin-stitch technique, producing a subtle shading effect. Scrolling vines are worked in gold-wrapped thread.

During the early Ming dynasty, the Chinese emperors, who maintained close ties to Tibet’s Buddhist monasteries, often commissioned textiles in the style and with the iconography of traditional Tibetan paintings. The imperial artisans adapted their exquisite workmanship to the creation of tribute gifts for Tibet’s temples, where they served as canopies, throne covers, altar hangings, or mountings for paintings. Written in Tibetan on the reverse of this embroidery is “The tenth Bodhisattva,” indicating that the elegant panel was part of a set.

Such an enlightened one is a friend of the world.
—Philosopher Nagarjuna, about 150–250