Stencil for a five-figure Buddha group, painting on paper

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

For the production of wall paintings

This stencil (or pounce) is one of very few to survive, and is the largest and most impressive of those found at Mogao. The outline of a Buddha group was painted on the right of the sheet, which was then folded down the middle and holes were pricked through both layers of the paper. This ensured perfect symmetry. To transfer the design to the wall, the stencil was laid out flat and a reddish powder was puffed or patted through the holes, leaving a dotted outline when the stencil was removed. This stencil has clearly been used, as it bears traces of powder.

Repeating groups of such Buddha assemblies can be found in many of the caves at Mogao from this period, especially on the ceilings. Recent research has shown how similar stencils are still used today in workshops decorating Buddhist temples in Qinghai province, near Dunhuang.

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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: 79.000 cm
Width: 141.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.72


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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