Bodhisattva with censer, ink and colours on a silk banner

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

A popular subject for worship

This is the painted area of a banner, which has now lost its triangular top and streamers. The single figure of a bodhisattva was also the most popular subject-matter for the banners or temple flags at Mogao. It is thought that several of these would be hung in the cave temples for various rituals.

Here the bodhisattva holds a censer in his left hand of the type of which actual examples were excavated in places such as the Famensi temple near Xi'an. Donors are also often shown holding similar censers. It is not an attribute of a specific bodhisattva, and neither the headdress decorated with flaming jewels or the empty cartouche give us any further clues to his identity.

Other banners show almost identical bodhisattva figures, clearly indicating that stencils or pounces were used to make such paintings at Dunhuang.

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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: 68.200 cm
Width: 19.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.125*


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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