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18th-19th century
Gouache on paper
38” by 23”


The Buddha reclines on his right-hand side on a bed raised from the ground; the head rests on his hand, while the left arm is straight along the body, as if the Enlightened One were sleeping. It is the moment of the exit from earthly life, of the attainment of perfect nirvana, the final liberation from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth. Some of the trees under which lies Shakyamuni suddenly blossom, as if nature too participated in the event, and from a branch hangs the almsbowl wrapped in red cloth. Maya, the Buddha’s mother, descends on a cloud from the paradise of the gods to pay homage to her son surrounded by disciples, arhats, bodhisattvas, demons and simple devotees. Many look surprised, others are grieving; on the right someone touches the Master’s feet as if to see if he is really dead.

But not all are in despair, and the bodhisattvas—the ones closest to the Buddha’s consciousness, and for this reason painted in gold like him—are gathered in prayer, aware that nirvana means liberation from suffering and illusion.

At the bottom of the painting (symbolically the lowest level of consciousness) animals and insects appear astonished and stricken. Some felines with heads bent to the ground have an expression of human sadness, while the elephant with raised trunk seems to be trumpeting his affliction to the sky. All living beings are concerned with the loss of the Master, who gave them all the hope to stop the wheel of samsara.

Although death is the subject of this painting, it is not an image of sorrow, for a feeling and also a message of intimate peace radiates from the central figure of the Buddha and from the expression on his face.

Detail:Close Up

© Renzo Freschi

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