Figure of Wei Mo Chi from the Longmen Grottoes


Historical period(s)
Northern Wei dynasty, ca. 520
H x W x D (overall): 170.5 x 141.4 x 16.4 cm (67 1/8 x 55 11/16 x 6 7/16 in)
China, Henan Province, Luoyang, Longmen Cave Temples, Cave 140 (Middle Bingyang Cave), east wall
Credit Line
Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Myron S. Falk, Jr.
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Sculpture, Stone

Buddhist sculpture

Buddhism, China, Northern Wei dynasty (386 - 534), WWII-era provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable
Previous Owner(s)

Mr. Myron S. Falk, Jr. 1906 - 1992
Otto Burchard 1892-1965
Pauline Baerwald Falk 1910 - 2000


This massive, early sixth-century figure was originally situated high overhead in the Binyang cave at the Longmen Grottoes, a famous Buddhist cave-temple complex built under imperial sponsorship in north China. The Binyang cave features huge sculptures of Buddhas crafted in a conservative and statically formal style as well as more naturalistic, relaxed bas-relief figures with sweeping drapery, including this image that portrays the supremely wise Buddhist layman Vimalakirti (known as Weimo in Chinese). A famous Buddhist sutra recounts a debate between the bodhisattva (enlightened being) of wisdom, Manjusri (Wenshu in Chinese) and Vimalakirti, who exhibited stunningly profound knowledge of Buddhist dharma, or truth. He holds a fanlike whisk; in ancient China this signified involvement in intellectual discourse.

Vimalakirti's reclining pose reflects the setting of the debate, which was described as held from his sick bed. The figure's now-missing left arm (propped on a cushion) is still visible at Longmen. This sculpture was removed from China in the 1930s and arrived in the United States in numerous pieces that were reassembled; losses were filled with replacement materials. Despite its damaged condition, including erosion of pigment that once covered the surface, this figure is still awe-inspiring and offers testimony to the grandeur of the Longmen Grottoes created for Buddhist worship.

Published References
  • Chang Qing. Search and Research: The Provenance of Longmen Images in the Freer Collection. vol. 34, no. 5 Hong Kong, May 2003. p. 24, fig. 12.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

Copyright with museum