Height: 39.900 cm
Width: 17.000 cm
Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein
Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.234
Avalokiteshvara, a colour woodblock print
From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu
Five Dynasties, 10th century AD
One of the earliest coloured woodblock prints
This print was found in Cave 17 at Mogao together with many other woodblock prints, including the world's earliest dated printed book, the Diamond Sutra (dated AD 868, now in the British Library, London).
By the tenth century AD printing on paper was widely available in Dunhuang and was popular as a cheaper way of producing images. As in Europe six centuries later, the earliest use of printing in China was fuelled by the desire to spread religious texts and images.
This print combines
text and image, enhanced with colour added by hand.
This layout, with the image on top and text below, was to become the dominant one for Chinese illustrated books from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries.
R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Ste-1, vol. 2 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)
R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)