Zsuzsanna Gulácsi and Jason BeDuhn, Picturing Mani’s Cosmology: An Analysis of Doctrinal Iconography on a Manichaean Hanging Scroll from 13th/14th-Century Southern China

Chinese Manichaean Diagram of the Universe. </i>Hanging scroll, paint and gold on silk, Yuan Dynasty 
(1279–1368 c.e.), 13th/14th century; private collection, Japan.
Chinese Manichaean Diagram of the Universe. Hanging scroll, paint and gold on silk, Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368 c.e.), 13th/14th century; private collection, Japan.



A large medieval Chinese silk painting belonging to an anonymous Japanese collector was identified in 2010 by Yutaka Yoshida as a depiction of the cosmos according to the Manichaean religion. Two other small silk fragments originally believed to stem from a separate work of art are here shown to be pieces of an unsuspected missing top section of the same painting. With the original hanging scroll digitally restored and assessed with the aid of a line-drawn diagram, it is now possible to offer a systematic analysis of its overall design and individual subscenes that incorporate previous interpretations, correct others, and add several new insights. As a work of religious art, this complex image is best approached by a combination of the complementary methodologies of Art History and Religious Studies—the respective disciplines of the two authors. In light of early Manichaean cosmological texts paired with a formal artistic analysis, the authors elucidate a visual catechism as it is conveyed within a complex iconography of over 900 motifs distributed in a layered symmetry that merges anthropomorphic, geomorphic, and architectonic features into a monumental cosmic map of salvation.