Past Exhibitions

Parinirvāṇa: Picturing the Death of the Buddha
February 15, 2022 - March 21, 2022

The historical Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have died and entered parinirvāṇa, his "final nirvana," on the fifteenth day of the second lunar month. By the Gregorian calendar, this translates to March 15th, which is when Japanese temples today hold the Nirvana Assembly (nehan-e). A painting of the Death of the Buddha typically hangs at this ceremony.
Many Death of the Buddha paintings are oversized; some are so large that they cannot be fully unrolled, even in grand temple halls. Why such massive dimensions? Perhaps this gave the viewers a more immersive experience akin to a sort of virtual reality. During the Kamakura period (1185–1333), artists were increasingly incorporating new Chinese artistic styles into their Death of the Buddha paintings. These included realistic elements that must have been fascinating to contemporaneous viewers.
The Nirvana Assembly became a staple in Japanese Buddhism probably because of the grand scale and realism of Death of the Buddha paintings such as these—also because it centers on the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, who is worshiped by many different Buddhist sects.

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