Vajrapani, ink and colours on a silk banner

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

In the Tibetan style

Although the format of this banner is largely similar to others found at Mogao, it is very different in style. The figure represented is the bodhisattva Vajrapani, identifiable by the small vajra or thunderbolt in his right hand.

The figure is shown in frontally and static, in sharp contrast to the dynamic representations of Vajrapani on banners from Mogao painted in the Chinese style. The body is painted green, with only the palms shown in pink. The features of the face, especially the large white, almond-shaped eyes with black centres, are strikingly different from the standard Dunhuang style. Furthermore the figure's dhoti (garment) is also very different in appearance: dyed with many colours and decorated with floral and geometric patterns, uncharacteristic of art from Dunhuang.

These features have led to this and several other paintings in the Stein Collection being identified as a Tibetan-style group and thus important examples of early Tibetan art. Dunhuang was occupied by the Tibetans between AD 781 and 847. This painting has a small-scale Tibetan inscription on the right. The silk weave, the hem and the size of the banners in this group are also different from the Chinese-style banners.

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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: 55.000 cm
Width: 14.500 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.103


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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