Painted and coloured paper flowers

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

These six paper flowers must be among the earliest examples of cut paper and collage to have been found. They are a good example of how the commonplace is preserved alongside great works of art.

In one instance, a flower has been drawn on a square of paper in red and black. Each of the remaining flowers comprise six layers of paper. Their basic rosette shape was derived from a square with the petals and leaves added on. The symmetrical design suggests that each layer was folded, cut, then unfolded and pasted on. Glue found daubed on the back of these flowers suggest that they were votive offerings attached to the images and walls of shrines.

Flowers were a common theme in the art of Dunhuang. Flying celestials known as apsarasas were shown scattering flowers. Floral rosettes, similar to the ones shown here, were a principal motif in ceilings, textiles, patterns and borders. Cut paper decorations and artificial flowers must have been widely used. They have also been found in tombs at Turfan and Astana.

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More information


M. Aurel Stein, Serindia: detailed report of e, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1921)

R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Stein, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

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


Diameter: 90.000 mm (circular shapes min.)
Diameter: 90.000 mm (circular shapes min.)

Museum number

Asia OA MAS 913 (Ch. 00149.a-f)


Collected by Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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