Virupaksha, Guardian of the West, ink and colours on a silk banner

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Five Dynasties, 10th century AD

Uygur influence in Dunhuang

Although the bottom streamers are now kept separately, this banner is preserved in very good condition, with its triangular headpiece still attached. The Guardian Kings trampling on demons and supported by clouds were a popular subject among the paintings found at Mogao. Here we see Virupaksha, Guardian King of the West, whose attribute is the sword.

Despite the popularity of the subject, the colouring and execution differ from the standard Chinese style used in the ninth century. The figure appears to be very flat, and is barely contained in the narrow dimensions of the banner. His arms and legs appear uncomfortably twisted and flattened out. His armour is densely shaded and decorated, and he is wearing very decorative shoes instead of the more usual sandals. These features link this painting to Uygur art, for example to the wall paintings from Bezeklik in the Turfan area. The Uygurs were the most important neighbours of Dunhuang in the tenth century, controlling the Silk Road both east and west. Dunhuang's Chinese governors had marriage links with the Ganzhou branch of the Uygurs, who could, and did, block westward trade with central China at will.

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More information


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

L. Russell-Smith, Uygur patronage in tenth and e, PhD dissertation (University of London, 2001)


Height: 64.500 cm
Width: 17.500 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.108


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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