Buddha hovers, left hand extended towards ground, above landscape dotted with buildings and groups of figures

Life Story of Buddha Shakyamuni


19th century

Pigments on cloth

Catalog Number
C2006.66.164 (HAR 157)

Rubin Museum of Art

Gift of Shelley and Donald Rubin

This painting communicates the story of the Buddha’s life. The Buddha, the main subject, appears many times in difference scenes throughout the painting in a visual convention known as continuous narration. The composition is mapped around the central figure of the Buddha situated in a landscape that serves as a setting for the scenes. The events proceed from the top center in a clockwise direction around the central figure, concluding in the upper-left corner.

The episodes of his life closely correspond to the traditional recounting of the Buddha’s great achievements recorded in The Praises to the Twelve Deeds of the Buddha, the eleventh-century text translated from Sanskrit in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The events include the breadth of the Buddha’s actions undertaken in the mind as well as in physical body—from the decision to be reborn and miraculous conception to the renunciation of princely life, practice of austerity, awakening, teaching, and passing away.

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