Vajrapani, ink and colours on silk

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

Chinese calligraphic painting style in Dunhuang

This painting is an excellent example of the calligraphic painting style that dominated the art of Dunhuang during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906). The figure of the bodhisattva, grasping a thunderbolt, or vajra in his left hand, bursts into the narrow picture frame, his speed indicated by the cloud rising above his head. His clenched fist, bulging muscles and exaggerated facial features make clear his fearsome nature as a guardian of the Buddha's law.

The black brushstrokes vary in thickness and end in sudden hooks, and the long, thick hair that falls over the shoulders is contrasted with the thin lines of the beard. The figure's clothing and scarves also fly in all directions.

This style for potraying guardians originated in Central China and had a far-reaching influence, also appearing in Japan.

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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: 79.500 cm
Width: 25.500 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.132


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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