Silk altar valance

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang Dynasty, 8th-9th century AD

Silk valances liek this were originally used on the altars of Buddhist temples, as represented on some of the wall paintings at Dunhuang. This example, which is missing a few streamers at the right end, is the most complete of three that were found in Cave 17. It was made from over 56 fragments of fabric stitched together. It includes 16 varieties of plain or figured silk, 3 different embroideries, as well as printed silk.

The valance is composed of three distinct components:

(a) A broad band with hanging loops at the top comprising pieces of white silk, pink damask, plain blue and red silk.

(b) Triangular tabs with streamers attached behind. Some of the streamers are knotted while others are attached to tassels, rosettes or stuffed silk figures. There are forty-two pieces in this section.

(c) Ten large panels forming a background of plain and figured silks in yellow, cream, white and green.

Like the foliated embroidered silk panel from Cave 17, this might have been another instance where materials were reused. Stein had thought that the little stuffed figures on some of the streamers were previously used as votive offerings by people hoping to have children.

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Silk altar valance

  • Detail of left-hand end

    Detail of left-hand end

  • Detail of central section

    Detail of central section

  • Detail of right-hand end

    Detail of right-hand end


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: 460.000 mm
Width: 2820.000 mm

Museum number

Asia OA MAS 855


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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