Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Altar of the Three Buddhas

Courtesy of the Galerie Chevalier, Paris

Altar of the Three Buddhas

commissioned in 1717

Judocus de Vos

Flemish, Brussels, 1661-1734

Chinoiseries are enchanting decorative motifs depicting imaginary interpretations of life in Asia. This rare tapestry is from a suite of chinoiserie tapestries created at the Judocus de Vos workshop in Brussels.

Three Buddhas sit at the center of this tapestry. Below this central group, figures that inhabit several of the island-like scenes worship the Buddhas by burning incense. From overhead, a camel and rider on a magic carpet swoop down with a hanging bouquet of flowers as an offering.

An eighteenth-century style that was a wholly European concept of exoticism, chinoiserie was inspired by Europe's passion for all things Asian. Whether the figures depicted in these scenes represent people of China, India, the Middle East or Japan is often difficult to determine; they are a mélange of Asian and Middle Eastern peoples who represent a general concept of Asia more than geographical boundaries or cultures. Chinoiserie is a blend of factual travel accounts and fantasy.
Wool, silk, metallic threads
105 1/2 x 85 1/16 in. (268 x 216 cm)
Gift of the Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Endowment for the Decorative Arts, Anonymous, General Acquisition Fund, Mildred King Dunn, Richard and Betty Hedreen, Decorative Arts Acquisition Fund, Margaret Perthou-Taylor, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, Ann Bergman and Michael Rorick, Mr. and Mrs. David E. Maryatt
Provenance: Purchased from Galerie Chevalier, Paris, France, 2002; Christie's London to Galerie Chevalier, 2000; d' Arenberg inventory (probably 1905)
Courtesy of the Galerie Chevalier, Paris
Not currently on view

Tapestry Scenes

The whimsical scenes on the Seattle Art Museum's four chinoiserie tapestries are woven against a black background, which is unusual. Black is one of the most difficult and transient of textile dyes. Through the years, this background color has changed to a chocolate brown. The background is wool, and the colorful threads that make up the scenes are silk. The metallic threads that appear black are tarnished silver. Because they are interwoven with silk and wool threads, it is impossible to restore them to their former glistening state.

Three Deities and a Phoenix

Original image courtesy of the Galerie Chevalier, Paris
Detail of three deities, 2002.38.1
"The grouping of three deities, with the larger middle one flanked by two smaller ones, is a canon format in Buddhist images and always the center of a composition in a mural, a temple, etc. Usually the grouping shows a seated Buddha flanked by two standing bodhisattvas. Here you have the hierarchic format, but instead with three amusing Buddhas.
Original image courtesy of the Galerie Chevalier, Paris
Detail of central Maitreya, 2002.38.1
The three fat, bare-chest Buddhas are identifiable as the Maitreya, the future Buddha, known also in China as the Budai (cotton-sack) Monk because Maitreya is believed to have disguised himself as a poor begging monk. These figures must have been inspired by the Dehua white porcelain figures of the Budai Monk imported from China, but some features are altered, like the large ears now sticking straight up instead of hanging down to their shoulders with drooping earlobes. The rosary beads the monk often holds and rests on his knee seem to have evolved into some kind of curved scepter.
Original image courtesy of the Galerie Chevalier, Paris
Detail of seat, 2002.38.1
The seats are quite unusual as well. The typical seats  for "the trinity image" are elevated seats or daises with either upward or downward lotus petals or even both. Maitreya is often seen seated without anything. Here the seats are inspired by the imported rattan/bamboo furniture and the oriental lattice features. Then again, the depiction of the seat cover is to me more Western, perhaps closer to that of a Christian altar cover, than something oriental or Buddhist.
Original image courtesy of the Galerie Chevalier, Paris
Detail of phoenix and red textile, 2002.38.1
The red textile hanging over the central Buddha is a Western device used for theatrical effect in Western painting. The red bird above the central Buddha is the mythical phoenix. The Chinese Daoists' name for the phoenix was 'cinnabar bird' (tan-niao), for the red mercury sulfide associated with alchemy, the ancient search for a magical compound that would change base metals into gold."

--Jennifer Chen, Independent Researcher/Scholar (email correspondence, January 2007)


Julie Emerson, Former Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, Seattle Art Museum, describes four chinoiserie tapestries


Published ReferencesWauters, Alphonse, "Les Tapisseries Bruxelloises - Essai Historique sur les tapisseries et les tapissiers de haute et de basse-lice de Bruxelles"; 1878, pp. 351 et 352

Wace, Alan, "The Marlborough tapestries at Blenheim Palace and their relation to other Military tapestries of the War of the Spanish Succession"; 1968, Londers-New-York

Delmarcel, Guy, "Flemish tapestry"; 1999, p 370

Brosens, Koenraad, "The Duke of Arenberg's Brussels Chinoiserie Tapestries by Judocus de Vos, Filo Forme"; 2004, n. 9, p 3

"Seattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures." London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007, pp. 58-59, illus. p. 59

Campbell, Thomas, editor, "Tapestry in the Baroque, Threads of Splendor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art"; 2007, pp. 449

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM