ClASSIC CAVES

Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes Cave 254

  • Dynasty:Northern Wei Dynasty(A.D.368-534)
  • Constructed in the Northern Wei dynasty, and located on the middle section of the cliff, this is the earliest central-pillared cave at Mogao. It has a gabled ceiling in the front and a flat ceiling in the back. Under the two ends of the beam of the gabled ceiling and the molded rafters on both slopes are wooden brackets, a structure of Traditional Chinese architecture. Between the rafters are images of celestial beings holding lotuses.The flat ceiling in the back is connected to the ground by the central pillar, which has niches in all four sides for various statues. The large niche in the east side contains a cross-legged Maitreya Bodhisattva, which was originally flanked by four attendants, and now there is only one on the south side and two on the north side. On both sides of the nimbus on the west wall in the niche are attendant bodhisattvas respectively above Vasistha and Mrgasirsa. On the ceiling of the niche are apsaras. The lintel is decorated with reborn children on lotuses. The niche beam shaped like a dragon is supported by two pillars wrapped in painted silk. Most molded figurines on the two sides or above the niche have been damaged, only a few are preserved. The other three sides each have two niches, one above the other. The upper niches shaped like the Chinese traditional gateway on the south and north sides each contain a cross-legged Maitreya bodhisattva, while the lower arch niches contain a dhyana Buddha. The upper niche shaped in the form of two spreading trees and the lower arch niche in the west side each contain a dhyana Buddha flanked by two attendant bodhisattvas out of the niche. There are molded figurines on the two sides and above the upper niche, which are blackened by sootiness. On the four sides of the central pillar below the niches are images of yakshas.A niche with the Chinese styled gateway is dug out of the side walls under the gabled ceiling and contains a cross-legged Maitreya bodhisattva. And four arch niches are made in each of the side walls in the back, respectively contains a preaching Buddha or a dhyana Buddha. Among them the heads of the Buddha statues in the south wall are all partly damaged, while two in the north wall are well preserved.The top section of the four walls are used for heavenly musicians, and below them are thousand Buddha motifs, in which each Buddha has an inscription beside indicating his title. There are totally 1235 Buddhas. The west sides of both side walls each contain a preaching scene, and in the center of the west wall is a preaching scene of a white-robed Buddha.The middle registers of the south and north walls under the niche in the front are covered with Jataka tales and Buddha's life stories. On the south wall is an illustration of Mara's Attack, and to its west are scenes of the Sattva Jataka. On the north side is the karma story of Nanda, and to its west is the Sibi Jataka.There is a successive decorative border consisting of algebra motifs such as checkboards and lozenges and plants like transformed lotuses and twisted honeysuckles on the four walls which separate the upper thousand Buddha motifs, preaching scenes and story paintings from the lower images of the yakshas.There is a window above the entrance. On both sides of the entrance and the window are thousand Buddha motifs. A part of a Sui Dynasty preaching scene is preserved on the north wall of the corridor....

Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes Cave 285

  • Dynasty:Western Wei Dynasty(A.D.535-556)
  • This cave was constructed during the Datong era in the Western Wei (according to the inscriptions on the north wall which has the dates of the fourth year and fifth year of the Datong era of the Western Wei, (538-548) and it is the dated earliest cave among the Dunhuang caves.The main chamber is square in plan and has a truncated pyramidal ceiling. A square altar was made in the center in the Yuan dynasty, and there are four symmetircal cells on each side walls. Inside or at the entrance of some cells are the remnants of the pagoda of the Yuan dynasty. The ceiling center highlights a parasol design, while the four slopes are covered with the images from Chinese mythology such as the traditional Chinese gods, and protectors of Buddhist laws, Mani Pearl, Guardian warriors, apsaras, god of Thunder, auspicious beasts, Fuxi and Nüwa, and etc. The bottom circle of the four slopes contains thirty-six monks in meditation in huts or in the mountain forests where all kinds of animals and hunting scenes are painted. There is a big niche in the west wall which has two small side cells. The west niche contains a seated Buddha with legs pendent and preaching. The side cells in the niche each have a meditation monk with a cowl. The upper part of the space out of the niche is occupied with various images of all kinds of devas and heretic figures, such as the gods of the Sun and the Moon, the gods of the stars, Visnu, Mahesvara, Kumara, Vinayaka, and worshipping bodhisattvas, below them are four heavenly kings and Vasistha. The brim of the niche at the bottom is decorated with the honeysuckle motifs. The North wall consists of the upper, middle and lower parts. The upper part is devoted to eleven musician apsaras holding different music instruments. The middle part is covered with the narrative story of five hundred robbers, which ends with the scene of Sakyamuni and Prabhutaratna sitting side by side. The lower part contains four cells. The spaces between the cells on the side walls depict karma stories about Bhadrika and his sister, the salvation of a bad ox, a young samanera committing suicide in order to obey Buddhist precepts, and a Brahman sacrificing his body so as to hear the preaching. These all are neither represented in a long strip with successive scenes or in a single picture. Below the story paintings are guardian warriors. The north wall consists of the upper and lower sections. The upper section are occupied by seven preaching scenes, each containing a votive text and donor figures at the bottom. The second and the seventh counting from the west each has an inscription in which the date can be identified. The lower section also contain four cells, just like those in the south wall. Three seated Buddha are painted on the space above the entrance in the east wall. On both the south and north sides of the entrance is a preaching scene in large size. The top layer of the ceiling of the corridor show traces of the bodhisattva in diamond position painted in the Middle Tang dynasty. The south wall has a illustration of Amoghapasa and the north has an illustration of Cintamani-cakra, both date to the Middle Tang period. The front chamber is a rectangle in plan, and the ceiling is a slope with traces of the Song dynasty murals. The west wall in the front chamber has a small cell above the entrance (numbered as cave 286). The south side of the entrance has some traces of the Song dyansty donor figures and below them the Middle Tang paintings can be seen. The north of the entrance with the picture of the Song dynasty male donor figures is numbered as cave 287 ....

Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes Cave 420

  • Dynasty:Sui Dynasty(A.D.581-618)
  • Constructed in the Sui dynasty and partly repainted in the Song and Western Xia dynasties, this cave has a truncated pyramidal ceiling and a niche in each of the south, west and north walls. This cave is also known as the Three-niche cave. The ceiling features laternendecke motifs and lotuses, the center is a three-rabbit motif. In the corners of the motifs are boy-like apsaras, and out of the corners are winged beasts. The outerframe of the square center is decorated with the patterns consisting of honeysuckles, lions and connected pearls. More outside are draperies extending to the four slopes where large-sized sutra illustration are depicted. Each scene is separated by the trees, flowers, temples, fountains, or lotus ponds and clouds. However, the density and discolor of these paintings on the four slopes make it very hard to decipher, therefore, opinions about the contents of the four slopes differ. There are mainly two opinions: 1. they are painted according to the Lotus Sutra, and 2. they are painted based on the Lotus Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra. This description accepts the first opinion. The west niche has a double-recessed entrance with a square bottom and an arch top, housing a seven-figure group: a seated Buddha, two disciples, four bodhisattvas. There upper of the two sides out of the niche is devoted to the Vimalakirti sutra illustration, the image of Vimalakirti on the south and that of Manjusri on the north. Below them are five disciples and four bodhisattvas. On the lower part of the west wall are pictures of the offerings and bodhisattvas painted in the Song dynasty. Both the south and north walls have a square shallow niche in the center housing the statues of a seated Buddha and two bodhisattvas. There are several marks of sovatthika (meaning auspicious) on the lower brim of the kasaya. Around the niche are thousand Buddha motifs. below the niche are bodhisattvas painted in the Song dynasty. There is a preaching scene on the space above the entrance in the east wall, below the preaching scene is an inscription of the Song dynasty (already blurred). To the north of the inscription are two male donors of the Song dynasty, and to the south are one female donor (vague) and a bhiksuni (Buddhist nun). The upper part of the south side of the entrance is covered with the thousand Buddha motifs of the Sui dynasty, and the lower part with six male donors painted in the Song dynasty. Along the entrance is a treasured pagoda of the Song dynasty. The north side of the entrance depicts the thousand Buddha motif of the Sui dynasty in the upper and four female donors and a bodhisattva of the Song dynasty below. Along the entrance is also a treasured pagoda of the Song dynasty. The corridor was repainted in the Western Xia. A medallion pattern is in the center and the draperies are painted on two slopes. Each of the south and north walls have two bodhisattvas. The front chamber was repainted in the Western Xia. On the west slopes are traces of some medallion motifs, beneath which are the Sui dynasty paintings. There is a small niche dug out of the space above the entrance in the west wall, which contains paintings of bodhisattvas and flowers. Out of the niche is a temple image. There are two preaching scenes on the upper part of both the south and north sides of the entrance, and there are vague paintings of donor figures below the preaching scenes. On the north and south walls are part of the draperies and halos. There are donor figures of the Song dynasty beneath the top layer of the paintings....

Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes Cave 061

  • Dynasty:Five Dynasties(A.D.907-960)
  • The hall cave was sponsored by the couple of Cao Yuanzhong, military governor of the Gui-yi-jun regime as their family temple in the tenth century, part of the murals were renovated in the Song dynasty. It is located at the lower level on the middle section of the Southern Area at Mogao and it is one of the largest caves at Mogao, consisting of a front chamber, a corridor and a main chamber. There is a two-stepped central altar in the center of the hall. It is called the hall of Manjusri in Dunhuang documents. The main chamber has a truncated pyramidal ceiling, and the ceiling center features a large parasol motif, in the center of the parasol are five lotuses, a entwining dragon and parrots. On the four slopes are preaching scenes surrounded by the thousand Buddha motifs. The four arch recesses in the four corners of the ceiling respectively depict the four great heavenly kings, namely, Dhrtarastra in the southeast recess, Virudhaka (mostly damaged) in southwest, Virupaksa in the northwest, and Vaisravana in the northeast recess. On the south, north, and east walls are eleven sutra illustration altogether and below these illustrations are Buddha's life stories and donor figures. The whole west wall is covered with a large-sized map of Mt Wutai (13 meters long and 3.6 meters high). On the upper part of each sidewall are five sutra illustrations, below them are thirty-three screen paintings illustrating Buddha's life stories. There are also tens of donor figures of the Cao family and inscriptions preserved on the east, north and south walls. The statues on the central altar are completely destroyed, only the traces of the paws of a lion can be seen on the back screen on which traces of some images are visible. On the upper part of the east wall is a Vimalakirti sutra illustration and below are donor figures. On the ceiling of the corridor is a six-fold medallion pattern with draperies on the two slopes. On the south and north walls of the corridor are images of Tejaprobaha Buddha and Eleven Star Gods, the zodiac, and alms-begging monks and nuns. There are inscriptions in both Tangut and Chinese. In the Yuan dynasty, the Huangqing Temple was built in front of the cave, which was renovated in 1351 by Suleiman Khan, King of Xining....

Guazhou Yulin Grottoes Cave 003

  • Dynasty:Western Xia Regime(A.D.1038-1227)
  • This cave was constructed in the later period when Guazhou was ruled by the Western Xia. With the diversified contents and art of both exotic and esoteric Buddhism, supported respectively by Chinese and the Tibetans, it is a most representative cave with the most matured and unique art. The cave is rectangular in plan with a dome ceiling. In the central back is an octangular altar with three steps on which stand a few statues of the Qing dynasty. The lower parts of the four walls are platforms of double steps built in the Qing dynasty, on which stand the statues of eighteen arhats. The ceiling is covered with a Mandala: in the center are five Buddhas of five directions. The middle part of the east wall is used for depicting Buddha's life stories, and on the two sides are a mandala of fifty-one headed thousand-armed and thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara of exotic Buddhism, a garbhadhatu-mandala of the esoteric Buddhism, and an illustration of the Sutra on Deva's Questions of exotic Buddhism. On the south wall, starting from the east, are a mandala, the Amitayus sutra illustration and a mandala. The north wall is in the same composition: a mandala, a pure land illustration and a mandala. On the space above the entrance in the west wall is a Vimalakirti sutra illustration, and the both sides of the entrance are respectively used for the illustrations of Manjusri and Samantabhadra. The north and south walls of the corridor are occupied by donor figures....

Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes Cave 322

  • Dynasty:Early Tang Dynasty(A.D.618-712)
  • Constructed in the Early Tang and renovated in the Five Dynasties, this is a small hall cave with a truncated pyramidal ceiling. There is a niche with double recesses dug out of the west wall, containing a seven-stuccoed figures; a Buddha, two disciples, two bodhisattvas and two heavenly kings. The heavenly kings have features of a non-Chinese foreigner; high nose bridges, thick eyebrows and big eyes. The ceiling center has a pattern of twisted vines. The drapery around the center extends to the four slopes. The decorative borders of twisted vines connect the the four walls with the four slopes. There is a preaching scene of Maitreya in the center of the south wall, which is surrouded by the thousand Buddha motifs. The north wall presents an illustration of the Amitabha sutra in the center, also surrounded by the thousand Buddha motifs. There are three preaching scenes above the entrance on the east wall. The south side of the entrance depicts a preaching scene of the Medicine Buddha, while the north has a standing disciple image with four donor figures. On either north or south of the brim of the entrance is a worshiping bodhisattva painted in the Five Dynasties. On the tent-like ceiling of the corridor in a Buddha in meditation painted in the Five Dynasties. On both of the north and south walls of the corridor are covered with the Buddhas in meditation, only two has survived on each side walls. ...

ClASSIC MURAL

TIME: High Tang Dynasty(A.D.713-766)

In the center of the north wall is a preaching scene, and around it are episodes from the Lotus sutra. Some of the scenes are vague and those identifiable ones include the illustrations of different chapers like the Introduction, Expedients, Fables, Predictions, and Emerging from the Underground.

image
TIME: Early Tang Dynasty(A.D.618-712)

The upper part is decorated with the thousand-Buddha motif, and the middle part shows five stories from west to east: 1. Emperor Han of the Western Han obtaining a gold image from the Huns and then sending Zhang Qian to explore the Western Regions; 2. The pond and stone where Sakyamuni washed and dried his kasaya; 3. the miracles of Fo Tucheng; 4. King Asoka worshiping the pagoda of the heretics;and 5 the magic power of Kang Senghui. The lower part is a picture of seven bodhisattvas.

image
TIME: Early Tang Dynasty(A.D.618-712)

On the south wall, there is a central preaching scene of Maitreya surrounded by the thousand Buddha motifs. On the lower section there were originally a few donor figures (most have been damaged). In this preaching scene, there are more than sixteen figures including the Buddha, bodhisattvas and disciples. Only the head or half body of the other figures are visible except the central Buddha, the two large-sized bodhisattvas, and the relatively small-sized heavenly kings. Under the parasol in the center, Maitreya Buddha sits in lotus position on a lion throne and preaches.

TIME: Mid-Tang Dynasty(A.D.762-827)

The south wall contains the Diamond sutra illustration and the Amitayus sutra illustration, below them are a few screen paintings that have been obscured. In the Diamond sutra illustration, Sakyamuni Buddha sits in lotus position in the center flanked by various bodhisattvas, Shravaka and heavenly kings. The upper part is a landscape of floating clouds and a river that runs into distance. The upper left corner shows scenes of giving offerings and interpreting the Diamond sutra for people, and upper right corner contains scenes of giving offerings and being humble as a blessing.The lower part contains pagodas and stories of Kalingka. In the Amitayus sutra illustration, Amitabha sits in the center flanked by Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapdta under the central treasured platform.

TIME: High Tang Dynasty(A.D.713-766)

The whole north wall is covered with the Amitayus sutra illustration, which consists of a middle part and two side scene respectively for the pure land of Amitabha in the center, the Sixteen Meditations on the east and the stories between Binbisara and Ajatsatru on the west. Amitabha sits in a lotus throne in the center, flanked by two attendant bodhisattvas. On the side platforms are groups of bodhisattvas led respectively by Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta. There is a group of grand buildings above Amitabha. The middle group includes the front and back halls.

TIME: Western Wei Dynasty(A.D.535-556)

In the center is King Father of the East sitting in a dragon-drawn chariot. Now only the four dragons, the chariot as well as the attendants around are visible. The upper part of the chariot is damaged. There are also mythic images of Wuhuo, Kaiming, plumed human beings, Yuqiang, and Feilian.

TIME: Northern Wei Dynasty(A.D.368-534)

On the upper part are images of sixteen heavenly musicians, below them are the thousand Buddhas in the center of which is a preaching scene, and at the lowest part are narrative story paintings of the Nine-colored Deer Jataka, which consists of eight episodes. The story begins from two ends and ends in the middle. The episodes are: 1. a man fell into the river; 2. a nine-colored deer saved the drown man, devadatta; 3.devadatta knelt down to thank the deer; 4. the queen of the kingdom wanted to capture the deer; 5. devadatta told the king where the deer lived; 6. the king led his army to hunt for the deer; 7. A crow awoke the deer; 8. the deer told the king about devadatta.

TIME: High Tang Dynasty(A.D.713-766)

Most of the illustration were severely damaged by Langdon Warner who tried to peeled it away. The upper part of the picture are four intact flying apsaras scattering flowers in two symmetrical but dynamic groups. The former looks back, echoing with the movement of the latter one.In composition, the narrow blank along the upper brim is used artfully. This is one of the representative picture of Apasara of Early Tang period in Mogao.

TIME: Early Tang Dynasty(A.D.618-712)

A niche is dug out of the west wall, containing a Central seated Buddha flanked by two disciples and four bodhisattvas. All except the torso, costume and the diamond throne, which are originally made in the Tang dynasty, are renovated or painted in the late Qing dynasty. A few apsaras are painted on the upper part of the niche. The south and north sides show the Great Departure and the Conception respectively, in which there are the gods of thunder and wind, dragon-riding immortals and incarnated boys. The walls of the niche are covered with a halo of flame patterns. On each side of the Buddha are four disciples and apsaras and incarnated children. There is a heretic figure on either side of the central Buddha.

TIME: High Tang Dynasty(A.D.713-766)

A Maitreya sutra illustration is rendered on the north wall, in which the preaching scene of Maitreya under the dragon-flower tree together with the two Assemblies of Maitreya on the two sides form a structure of triangle. In front of Maitreya are scenes of King Sankha presenting seven national treasures and a treasured pagoda to Maitreya, Maitreya the giving the pagoda to Brahmen, and the Brahmen pulling down the pagoda and getting their own share. These stories embody the philosophical ideas of Buddhism: life is impermanent and very short, only renounce the secular world and practice in seclusion can people get rid of the disasters in secular life and enter the pure land.