Two standing Avalokiteshvara, ink and colour on silk

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

Devotional painting at a time of hardship

The painting shows two almost identical figures of Avalokiteshvara, one of the most popular of the bodhisattvas, identifiable by the small figure of the Buddha Amitabha in his headdress. One of the only differences between the two figures are the attributes that they hold: that on the left holds a flower, that on the right a vase and a willow branch. All three were popular attributes of Avalokiteshvara.

The inscription in the centre of the painting tranlates in part: '…the disciple of pure faith, Yiwen, on his own behalf, having fallen [into the hands of the Tibetans], hopes that he return to his birthplace.' The portable paintings found at the Mogao caves were mostly commissioned to benefit the donor or the donor's deceased parents and relatives. It was believed that the act of commissioning a painting would bring good karma. Therefore this example was commissioned to ensure a peaceful life during the period of war with the Tibetans, who finally had to give up Dunhuang in AD 948.

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Two standing Avalokiteshvara, ink and colour on silk

  • Detail of central inscription

    Detail of central inscription


More information


R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Ste-2, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

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


Height: 147.300 cm
Width: 105.300 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.3


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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