My Picks: Philadelphia Museum of Art Visit (Part 1)

There are quite a few pieces of artwork that I thoroughly enjoyed while visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I try to include some of these artworks in posts I call “My Picks” along with the reasons why I enjoy them so much. (Disclaimer: All views expressed are only those of the writer.)

I am going to divide my picks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art into several posts because of the amount of artwork I’m including. This first post will include those pieces from the Asian Wing.

  • The first is the “Temple of the Attainment of Happiness (Shofukuji)” which is believed to have been created during the Muromachi Period (1392-1573) in Japan.
At The Temple Of The Attainment of Happiness

At The Temple Of The Attainment of Happiness
Photography by Tyisha Short.

It’s the main alter that moves me so much. I enjoy the story of Buddha. It is such a moving and inspirational story to me. So, artwork concerning Buddhism always gives me this feeling that I need to do better with my life… not necessarily better in a material sense but in a spiritual sense.  The Buddha depicted in this altar is Buddha Amida (Chinese: Amitabha) who is the Buddha of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism.

Temple Of The Attainment Of Happiness (Shofukuji)

Temple Of The Attainment Of Happiness (Shofukuji)
Wood, Plaster
Photography by Eric Bess.

I especially enjoy the Buddhist Statuary from Japan since it seems to have held up so well under the pressure of time. There is also such a great degree of detail and this detail adds to the grace of the figures instead of making them stiff or heavy. If there were more time in a day, I would spend more time looking at this but there’s not, so it’s time to move to the next work.

  • This next work is the “Ceiling from the Hall of Great Wisdom (Dazhidian) at the Zhihua Monastery (Zhihuasi), Beijing, China.

Ceiling from the Hall of Great Wisdom at the Zhihua Monastery
Wood, Painted Decoration
Early 1400s
Photography by Eric Bess

The Zhihua Monastery was a Buddhist compound in Beijing and was built by a eunuch in the early 1400’s. This ceiling comes from the second of five main halls in the compound. According to the Philadelphia Museum of Art website:

” In the center is a writhing imperial dragon surrounded by clouds, bracketing, and eight canted panels, each bearing a smaller dragon among clouds. Lotuses, apsaras (Buddhist flying musicians), and other Buddhist religious symbols are carved in the surrounding panels. The Chinese name for this central part of the ceiling is tianjing, or “well of heaven.” While most of the original red lacquer is well preserved, much of the rich overlay of gold leaf has been lost.”

The detail in this ceiling is just astounding… imagine it gilded with gold leaf (which has deteriorated). I believe it effectively serves its purpose. Leonardo’s “Last Supper” (amongst other last supper themed paintings of the same time period) was painted in a monastery “cafeteria” so the monks could contemplate the life of Christ even while eating, This ceiling served a similar purpose for the monks at the Zhihua Monastery: while walking the halls of the compound, the artwork would serve as a suggestion to contemplate the greater meaning of life and the universe. This intention is beautiful to me, for the mystery of this thing we call life and of this place we call the universe is too great to ignore, and thus I cannot help but appreciate when anyone tries to contemplate such puzzles that appear to have no definite answers.

  • The final piece I am going to discuss in this post is the “The Throne Leg with an Elephant-Headed Lion (Gajasimha Vyala).”

The Throne Leg With an Elephant-Headed Lion
Mid -13th Century
Photography by Eric Bess

The subject matter of this piece takes a drastic turn from the previous pieces. This ivory carving is of an elephant-headed lion that is toppling a demon that sets upside-down on his belly and served its purpose as the leg of an ivory throne… that’s right: a whole ivory throne. It is believed to have been created in the mid 13th century in Orissa, India.

There is a lot of controversy concerning the acquisition of ivory today. According to the Epoch Times Newspaper, Asian countries are supplying the demand for most of the poaching occurring in African countries. The slaughtering of Rhinos, Elephants, and Tigers for profit is believed to be hurting the balance of the ecosystem.

I don’t know how the throne was made: were animals slaughtered for the material; was the material gathered upon the natural death of the animal; was the material gathered some other way? I don’t know, but I do know one thing: (this next statement does not condone the slaughtering of animals for the acquisition of personal pleasures but merely expresses the author’s opinion on the degree of beauty/ugliness the object contains irrespective of how the object came to be) that carved ivory is one beautiful piece of artwork. It was done fantastically. The artist’s attention to detail and the depiction of the subject matter are inspiring to say the least… and it is only the leg, only the leg upon which rested a throne. I can only imagine the grandeur of the whole throne. The king that sat upon such a throne must have inspired awe into his subjects and visitors.

Thank you for Reading,