The Buddhist Paintings

Bodhisattva as Guide of Souls,

Bodhisattva as Guide of Souls

Height: 80.500 cm
Width: 53.800 cm

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.47

During the thousand years of artistic activity at Mogao, the style of the wall paintings and sculptures changed, in part a reflection of the influences that reached it along the Silk Road. The early caves show greater Indian and Western influence, while during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906) the influence of the latest Chinese painting styles of the imperial court is evident. During the tenth century, Dunhuang became more isolated and the organisation of a local painting academy led to mass production of paintings with a unique style.

The art also reflects the changes in religious belief and ritual at the pilgrim site. In the early caves, jataka stories were commonly depicted. During the Tang dynasty, Pure Land Buddhism became very popular. This promoted the Buddha Amitabha, who helped the believer achieve rebirth in his Western Paradise, where even sinners are permitted, sitting within closed lotus buds listening to the heavenly sounds and the sermon of the Buddha, thereby purifying themselves.

Various Paradise paintings decorate the walls of the cave temples of this period, each representing the realm of a different Buddha. Their Paradises were shown in sumptuous Chinese palace settings. Simplified versions of these buildings appear on banners depicting bodhisattvas showing donors on their way to Paradise.