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Cai Shan 傳蔡山
(13th-14th century), attributed

“Lohan Cutting Toenails”

Hanging scroll, ink on silk
117 x 46 cm. (46 x 18 in.)

Published: Kaikodo Journal XV (Spring 2000), no. 3.

The numerous lohan who populate the Buddhist world are spiritual descendants of the historic Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (ca, 566-486 or 563-483), and of his enlightened disciples, the original lohan. The lohan here sits on a rock beneath an overhanging tree; he grasps one of his bare feet, turning the toes upward for convenience in trimming the nails with the scissors held in his other hand. This iconography seems to be unique and might illustrate the truism that enlightenment cannot be forced and that salvation can come at any moment, even when one is engaged in the most mundane of activities.

During the Yuan era foreigners from Central and Western Asian countries, India and Europe were to be found in China and an air of exoticism thus characterizes a good number of lohan paintings of the period. The artist Cai Shan—which could be a place name, Mount Cai—is recorded only in the sixteenth-century Kundaikan Sayochoki, the catalogue of the Ashigaka shogun’s collection of paintings, with the note that the artist was a specialist in painting lohan.


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