Buddhism has been a dominant religious and intellectual force in China since it arrived from India around 100 C.E. Both literati and professional artists created Chinese Buddhist paintings.
Literati painters, scholars for whom painting was a form of intellectual and moral cultivation, created meditative scenes by incorporating Buddhist ideas into landscape painting. For painters who followed Chan (Zen) Buddhism, the expressive handling of ink evoked the sudden awareness that comes in moments of insight.
Professional artists generally focused on figurative paintings, including depictions of buddhas, bodhisattvas (nearly enlightened beings that stay on earth to help people), arhats (the original followers of the Buddha), and eminent monks. During the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), the imperial patronage of esoteric Buddhism—the primary school of Tibetan Buddhism—resulted in a vast number of religious works in the Tibetan style. These paintings combine Tibetan attention to iconographic detail with Chinese-inspired decorative elements.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website