A Christian figure, ink and colours on silk (fragment)

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang dynasty, 9th century AD

The mixture of languages on the Silk Road

Christianity reached ninth-century China in the form of Nestorianism. Nestorios was a bishop of Constantinople whose thesis of AD 429 stated that Christ had a dual nature (divine and human) and that Mary was only the mother of the human Christ. His views were condemned by the Council of Ephesus of AD 431 and his followers were subsequently persecuted. They fled to Syria, from where they spread to Persia and India, as well as China.

Nestorian Christians had flourishing communities in various parts of China, including the oasis cities of the Silk Road. A wall painting (now in the Museum für Indische Kunst, Berlin) attests to the popularity of Christian worship in the Turfan area. Christian monuments were found in many parts of China, often identifiable by the use of the Nestorian cross as their main symbol. This cross is shown in the headdress of this figure, whose hairstyle and clothing also set him apart from the usual Dunhuang style. It is interesting that in his hand he holds a flower grasped with two fingers in the same manner as bodhisattvas and donor figures do in Buddhist paintings.

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More information


R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Ste-2, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Height: 88.000 cm
Width: 55.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.48


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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