Painted silk headpiece from a banner

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Five Dynasties or Northern Song Dynasty, 10th century AD

This square of silk would have been folded diagonally to form two triangular headpieces which would have been attached to the top of a banner. The almost identical images of the Buddha can then be seen on either side. When found, the headpiece had a purple silk border which had faded into brown. Judging from the diagonal, this would have been attached to a banner about seventy centimetres wide, larger than any of the banners that survive in the Stein Collection in the British Museum.

The silk used for making this headpiece is figured with a phoenix motif. The palette used for colouring the Buddha images is limited and appears to have been sparingly applied. However, a yellow pigment used beneath the flesh tones of the face and torso of each Buddha was strong enough to have seeped through the back.

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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)


Height: 53.000 cm
Width: 53.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA MAS 888


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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