Height: 187.500 cm
Height: 187.500 cm (total)
Width: 18.600 cm
Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein
Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.134
Vajrapani, ink and colours on a silk banner
From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu
Tang dynasty, late 9th century AD
A typical banner painting
Vajrapani is a Buddhist guardian figure, characteristically shown with a thunderbolt, or vajra to protect Buddha's law.
This banner painting is one of the very few from the Mogao caves to survive intact. It has a triangular top and side and tail streamers. A board at the bottom ensured that the painting was stretched out when hung. Such paintings could be viewed from both front and back, as suggested by depictions of banners.
In contrast to the painting of the Bodhisattva holding a glass bowl which was executed in very thin, even lines, this painting was executed in calligraphic lines of changing width, well suited to representing the energetic figure, who is barely contained within the narrow frame of the painting. This effect is further emphasised by the addition of the network of red lines, showing the guardian figure's strong muscles.
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)