Shakyamuni preaching on the Vulture Peak, silk embroidery on hemp cloth

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang dynasty, 8th century AD

This is one of the largest known examples of Chinese embroidery. Its layout compares closely with paradise paintings and the wall murals at Mogao. Shakyamuni is shown preaching the Lotus Sūtra at Rājagrha on the Vulture Peak, represented by the rockery. A scattering of flowers and leaves embellishes the background. He is accompanied by two disciples and the bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara and Mahāsthāmapāpta. Hovering over this assembly are two apsarasas who flank a jewelled canopy. At the base, there are two groups of donor figures and a central inscription panel.

The panel was made from three widths of hemp cloth entirely covered with thin closely-woven silk. The outline of the design was first drawn in ink onto the silk. Its main contours were worked with split stitching of brown or dark blue silk. The areas enclosed by the outlines were then filled in using closely packed unplied floss silk. The embroidery is generally well preserved. However, when it was folded for storage in the cave, the two disciples fell along the lines of folding, which explains the heavy damage to them.

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More information


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

J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

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: 2410.000 mm
Width: 1595.000 mm

Museum number

Asia OA Ch. 00260



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