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Manichaean Diagram of the Universe

The Manichaean Diagram of the Universe (Chinese: 摩尼教宇宙圖; Japanese: マニ教宇宙図) is a Yuan dynasty silk painting describing the cosmology of Manichaeism, in other words, the structure of universe according to Manichaean vision. The painting is owned by an anonymous Japanese collector, it measures approximately 158 by 60 centimetres,[1] and depicts the cosmic view of Manichaeism in vivid colours on a silk cloth.

Manichaean Diagram of the Universe
Chinese: 摩尼敎宇宙圖, Japanese: マニ教宇宙図
Yüen dynasty Manichaean diagram of the Universe.jpg
TypeHanging scroll, paint and gold on silk
Dimensions158 cm × 60 cm (62 in × 24 in)
LocationPrivate collection in Japan

The painting was discovered by Yutaka Yoshida [ja]with his research team in 2010, and identified as a depiction of the cosmos according to the Manichaean religion. According to the team, this piece of art was probably produced by a painter from southern China (Zhejiang or Fujian province) around the period of Yuan dynasty, which ruled China from 1271 to 1368; and the only painting currently known that covers Manichaeism's cosmologic view in complete form. How and when it was transferred to Japan is a mystery.[2]



Under the Manichaean view of the universe, the world is formed by ten layers of heaven and eight layers of the Earth. The separated top section depicts paradise, below it are the sun (right) and moon palaces, which are shown in two circles. Then the ten layers of heaven, where angels, demons and the twelve zodiac signs are included. Below the ten firmaments of heaven are the eight layers of the Earth, the Mount Meru is shown as a mushroom-shaped mountain on the ground where humans live; and hell is depicted in the lowermost part.[3][4]


"Mani as observer": the white robed priest, the silhouette of his face against the green halo.

After carefully studying the painting, and comparing it with the Manichaean materials found in Xinjiang, the westernmost region of China, the members of Yoshida's research team concluded that the painting is Manichaean because it includes a priest wearing a white robe with red piping that is characteristic of Manichaean priests.[2] According to the historian Zsuzsanna Gulácsi, the white robed priest—the silhouette of whose face against the green halo—is a depiction of the prophet Mani.[5]

In 2009, Professor Yoshida raised an idea that this painting might constitute a Chinese version of Mani's Book of Pictures, and subsequently by Gábor Kósa [hu].[6]

In her book Mani's Pictures: The Didactic Images of the Manichaeans from Sasanian Mesopotamia to Uygur Central Asia and Tang-Ming China, the Hungarian historian of religion Zsuzsanna Gulácsi, who is also a specialist on Manichaeism, explaining the possible relation between this painting and Mani's Book of Pictures. She argues that this hanging scroll is not a canonical object in Manichaeism, because the canonical Manichaean images were only designed for picture books with documented heights ranging between 8 cm and 25 cm. After the introduction of hanging scrolls into Manichaean artistic production by the 10th century, it started to integrate a number of individual canonical images in one composite display. "The result was the emergence of modified canonical images. The Diagram of the Universe is an example of such a modified image."[6]

Top section: the paradise scene.
Above the sun and moon palaces: the heaven scene.
Foot of the Mount Meru: the mortal world.

Gulácsi designed a visual syntax with Jason BeDuhn to analyse the painting:[7]



The eight silk hanging scrolls

Eight silk hanging scrolls with Manichaean didactic images from southern China from between the 12th and the 15th centuries, which can be divided into four categories:

Mono-scenic icons
Soteriology scroll
Prophetology scrolls
Cosmology scroll
  • Diagram of the Universe

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gulácsi, Zsuzsanna (2015). "Matching the Three Fragments of the Chinese Manichaean Diagram of the Universe". Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Manichaeism cosmology painting found". Yukiko Ogasawara. 28 September 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  3. ^ "国内にマニ教「宇宙図」 世界初、京大教授ら確認". (in Japanese). Tsuneo Kita. 26 September 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  4. ^ "マニ教「宇宙図」確認 国内現存、謎解きに期待". (in Japanese). 19 October 2010. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  5. ^ Gulácsi, Zsuzsanna (2015). "Matching the Three Fragments of the Chinese Manichaean Diagram of the Universe" (PDF). pp. 82–83. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Gulácsi, Zsuzsanna (2015). Mani's Pictures: The Didactic Images of the Manichaeans from Sasanian Mesopotamia to Uygur Central Asia and Tang-Ming China. "Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies" series. 90. Leiden: Brill Publishers. p. 440. ISBN 9789004308947.
  7. ^ "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". Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  8. ^ Ruani, Flavia. "Manichaeism: The Religion of Light – The 'Seal of the Prophets'". p. 40. Retrieved 23 November 2018.

External linksEdit