Portraits of 500 Arhats


Wu bai Luohan tu (Portraits of 500 arhats), written and inscribed by Emperor Gaozong (1711‒99), reign title Qianlong (reigned 1736‒96), was originally a painting by Wang Fangyue. Wang Fangyue, born in Wuxi, Jiangsu, was a court painter during Emperor Qianlong’s reign, and excelled in figure and landscape painting. An arhat is someone who has reached true enlightenment (nirvana). The entire painting is divided into ten sections, each section assigned in order with one of the names of the ten heavenly stems (days in a calendrical cycle). Each painting is followed by a text. At the front is a preface, which briefly describes how Emperor Qianlong supervised the entire process, from the beginning to the end, of the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats on Longevity Hill in Beijing. It also explains the characteristics of the 500 arhats, who positioned themselves in the woods, at streams, and in the pavilions, on terraces and towers, instead of being placed side by side in rows. Some of the arhats are in motion and others are still. Their expressions are all different, and they are lifelike. A stone carving was made in the 22nd year (1757) of the Qianlong reign. The stone tablet was originally placed in the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats on Longevity Hill in the Garden of Clear Ripples, located in present-day Haidian District, but it has long been lost. This copy is a first-generation rubbing, in intermittent dark and light shades of black ink. The rubbing is of high quality and between the Chinese characters there is clear spacing, thus highlighting the nuances. The rubbing is framed with yellow brocade and is elaborately mounted and wrapped. This rubbing is very rare and is a fine art treasure.

Last updated: July 27, 2016