Masters of Mercy – and sartorial splendor

detail of The Bath, the Five Hundred Arhats: Scroll 9 by Kany Kazunobo ca. 1854-63

Once I got over marveling at how horribly beautiful hell could be, I found myself staring at the silks — not the silk Kano Kazunobo painted on, but the silks he depicted the Buddha’s disciples wearing.  I’m talking about a selection of 19th-century scroll paintings that form the  centerpiece of  “Masters of Mercy: Buddha’s Amazing Disciples,” a show at the Sackler Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  I was probably primed to notice the silks because I was next headed to the Textile Museum and thinking about how garments often signal status.

detail of The Six Realms: Hell, the Five Hundred Arhats: scroll 23 by Kano Kazunobo ca. 1854-63

And then it struck me that the Buddha’s disciples in this series were all wearing lovely silks, whether they were getting shaved (check out the difference between what the haloed disciple is wearing and the clothes of the barber) or whether they were standing on a cloud peering down at less fortunate souls.  If I could have, I would have reached in and plucked any one of these beautifully imagined silks….

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