Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism

June 16 – September 10, 2017

Cowden Gallery

Heaven and hell

Image caption: Amida Buddha with Attending BodhisattvasJapan, Edo period, late 18th century, Wood with gold, pigment, metal, and headstones, 22 x 18 x 9 in., San Antonio Museum of Art, gift of Lenora and Walter F. Brown, 2013.38.262, Photography by Peggy Tenison.

Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism, will bring together approximately seventy paintings, sculpture, and works of decorative arts to survey the artistic expressions of the Pure Land faith. Pure Land Buddhism is based on belief in Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, who promises salvation in his heavenly paradise after death to all those who will simply call upon his name. The appeal of easy salvation made faith in Amitabha one of the most popular forms of Buddhism throughout Asia, where it inspired the development of beautiful and diverse works of art.

To introduce the subject, the exhibition will include a selection of works from the continent of Asia, such as the Gandhara region of India, Southeast Asia, China, Tibet, and Korea, which show the endurance of Pure Land motifs across continents for a thousand years. The majority of the show will be focused on Japanese works of art that illustrate how Amitabha will descend to earth from his heaven to greet a dying soul, scenes of hell, the numerous divine beings that are put on earth to guide the faithful and assist those who have fallen into hell escape that terrible fate.

Lenders to the exhibition include the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Cleveland Art Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Philadelphia Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Birmingham Museum of Art, and the Dallas Museum of Art. Curated by Emily Sano, PhD, the Coates-Cowden-Brown Senior Advisor for Asian Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the former director of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the exhibition will also be accompanied by a catalog. 

This exhibition is generously funded by the Elizabeth Huth Coates Charitable Foundation of 1992, the Theodore and Doris Lee Family Foundation, the Marcia & Otto Koehler Foundation, the Pilkington Foundation Anglo-Japanese Cultural Foundation, Allen Bennett, and Dr. Robert Clemons.