Monk seated in meditation, ink and colours on paper

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang Dynasty, late 9th - early 10th century AD

The beginnings of portraiture in the East

The cave where the paintings were found sealed up at Mogao, known as Cave 17, was originally built as a memorial chapel for Hongbian, a monk who was active there in the ninth century. His statue was removed when the bundles of silk paintings were put into the cave, but this has now been returned to its original place. The statue shows Hongbian seated with his hands on his lap, in a similar fashion to the monk shown in this sketch, and with his belongings hanging on the tree behind. A monk was only allowed to have a begging bowl or bag and a rosary, a prayer mat like the one that this monk sits on, and a vase for water. His shoes are neatly placed in front of the mat.

The depiction of senior monks and sages played an important part in the development of portrait painting and sculpture in China and East Asia.

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More information


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)


Height: 46.000 cm
Width: 30.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.163


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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