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The Five Hundred Arhats

The Five Hundred Arhats



Wu Bin 吳彬

(Chinese, active c. 1591-1626)

Handscroll, ink and color on paper

Overall: 39.5 x 2646.5 cm (15 9/16 x 1041 15/16 in.); Painting only: 37.7 x 2347 cm (14 13/16 x 924 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 1971.16


Disciples of the Buddha with supernatural powers, arhats (also called lohans) populate this scroll. Far advanced on the path to enlightenment, they have not yet reached full Buddhahood. Traditionally depicted with foreign features, they have the capacity to tame tigers, free dragons, and to float on water or in the air.

Originally from Fujian province, the artist Wu Bin moved to Nanjing by 1600 where he was affiliated as a Buddhist layman with the Qixia temple. He specialized in landscapes and Buddhist subjects. The gnarled and grotesque figures delineated in brush lines without shading, combined with light pastel colors, reveal Wu Bin’s originality and inventiveness.

More than 66 feet long and probably the most complex of the artist’s figural compositions, this scroll depicts 500 arhats, 18 attendants, and Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion, at its very end. The result is an engaging and amusing assortment of characters.

See also
ASIAN - Handscroll
Chinese Art
Type of artwork: 

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