|Dunhuang Art in the Last Phase...
|5. Paintings of
Buddhas and BodhisattvasPaintings of Buddhas and
other deities during the Cao family rule have unique features such as the four great Deva
Kings painted in the four corners of the ceilings so that they might be the guardians of
the caves. The eight categories of supernatural beings (tianlong babu) are neatly painted
inside the niche, standing guard on both sides. Giant images/dunhuang of Buddhas as well as the
preaching Buddha are mostly drawn on the back of the screens. Other new themes are the
eight great N¡gas in the company of
Devar¡ja Vai¿rava¸a attending the Nata's
sermon. The latter is found in a well-preserved condition in Cave No. 36. On both sides of
the passage stand the eight great N¡gas
with inscriptions reading "Dali
longwang" (N¡gar¡ja of great strength), "Dahoulongwang"
(N¡gar¡ja of loud roaring), "Chihua
holding flowers), "Chixiang longn" (N¡gin¢i holding incense), etc.
The N¡gar¡jas are painted like warriors while the N¡gin¢i are dressed like palace maids. All of them have a human body and snake's tail, swimming with ease in the sea. On shore we see high mountains and forest jungles, cascading waterfalls and flowing streams. This is a painting full of mystical flavour.
Cave No. 36, Five Dynasties
The murals of this cave were funded by the donation of the Senior Colonel Liang Xingde and his son during the Qingtai Era (934-936).33 The "Gongdeji" (Account of Religious Dedication) says: "The painting shows N¡gar¡jas in the sea. Every time we look at them, they bring timely amrita to us, creating favourable monsoons according to farming seasons."34 It is evident that these paintings of venerated images/dunhuang were linked with the phases of everyday life. Besides this, the north and south walls of this cave also have large-scale illustration of MaµjuÀr¢ and Samantabhadra respectively. However, damages through the ages have left intact only a portion of these paintings in the western corners. The surviving portion which gives a glimpse of the portraits of the families shows a masterpiece typical of the murals of the Five Dynasties.
|6. Decorative Patterns They were mostly
painted on the caissons, inside the haloes, on the borders and the carpets in the
paintings. The major motifs are: circling dragons, circling phoenixes, parrots, peacocks,
unicorns, lotus, flower clusters, triangular flower patterns, whirling patterns,
bead-string patterns, pomegranates and vines in wave patterns, etc. The caissons are
extraordinary from the conventional point of view. Often there is one huge canopy for the
entire cave, which greatly strengthens the feeling of integrity and regularity of the
|The Art Academy of the Caos
continued for about a hundred odd years through the Five Dynasties and Northern Song
Dynasty, having already enjoyed its heyday and starting to decline after Cao Yuanzhong
became the Garrison General.
|II. Regimes of the
National MinoritiesThe Western Xia and Yuan Dynasties were
the two regimes founded by National minorities of China's western and northern neighbours.
In the eleventh century the upper classes of Dangxiang, who had their political bases at
Liangzhou and Xiazhou, first annexed Turfan and Uighur to augment their fighting forces,
and then Shazhou, Guazhou and other ten provinces, establishing an empire "bordering
the Yellow river in the east, the Yumen Gate in the west, the Xiao Gate in the south and
controlling the Gobi desert in the north".35 The Western Xia Kingdom lasted for
nearly two hundred years, embracing the present- day provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi and
Ningxia. During the Northern Song period, Dangxiang troops conquered Ganzhou. In the
eighth year of the Tiansheng Era (1030), the ruler of Guazhou, Cao Xianshun, led his
one-thousand-strong cavalry to surrender to the Western Xia.36 In the second year of the
Guangyun Era of Western Xia (corresponding to the second year of Jingyou Era of Northern
Song) (1035), the Xia emperor Jingzong conquered Guazhou, Shazhou and Suzhou; henceforth
Dunhuang became a part of Western Xia.
Cave No. 97, Western Xia
The rulers of Western Xia were good fighters. They resorted to force to subjugate the various nationalities within the kingdom on the one hand, and vigorously promoted Buddhism on the other to create a peaceful rule by means of the Buddhist medium. Li Yuanhao had himself studied Buddhism and was conversant with Xixia and Chinese languages.37 The rulers of Western Xia had made requests to the Song Dynasty several times to purchase the "Chinese Tripitakas". They built numerous monasteries, temples and stµupas to house the scriptures. They also invited monks of various nationalities to expound and translate the scriptures and printed and distributed them widely. In the eleventh year of the Renxiao Tiansheng Era (1159) of Emperor Renzong of Western Xia, Tibetan Buddhism was introduced in the kingdom. An eminent Tibetan priest, "Gexi zangsuobu", was invited to the Western Xia court and revered as the Rj-Guru.38 The Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang and the Yulin Grottoes of Anxi had experienced a spell of building activities during this period.
|In 1227, Chengiz
Khan of Mongolia wiped out Western Xia. In March of the same year he
conquered Shazhou. In 1279, Kublai Khan ended the one hundred years of
disintegration of China and established a great Eurasian Empire with
Ulanbator as the centre. Upto the seventeenth year of Zhiyuan Era (1280)
the Mongol government set up a headquarter at Shazhou and the Hexi
Corridor was completely under the rule of the Mongolian nobility. The
Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty propagated Confucian teachings and
attached importance to Taoism, in addition to energetically pursuing the
policy of "equal weightage to the three teachings" and
"using Buddhism to enlighten the heart, using Taoism to cultivate the
body, using Confucianism to rule the society."39
Besides this, they patronized also Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In the
realm of Buddhism they tilted in favour of Lamaism. The famous Tibetan
monk Basiba was invited to the Mongol court to become the R¡j-guru.
He was made to handle the imperial seal to control the affairs of Buddhist
institutions of the entire empire, being virtually an advisor to the
Central Government of the Yuan Dynasty. Therefore, the á¡kya
sect of Tantrism prevailed throughout the country and also became current
in Hexi Corridor. When Marco Polo travelled through north-west China, he
saw the Buddha images/dunhuang of Ganzhou and described the biggest as
having a height of ten steps along with other smaller ones. According to
him, the statues were made of clay or stone, all exquisitely carved or
moulded with a layer of gold applied on the surface.40
He also said "the idols (of Dunhuang) and the devotees (Buddhists)
used their own language."41
Up to the eighth year of the Zhizheng Era (1348) Chinese, Xixia, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Uighur scripts had been used for the mantras in the Mogao Grottoes. This shows that Dunhuang was the common home of various nationalities and their Buddhists. The epigraph where the mantra was engraved in all these languages was donated by King Sulaiman of Xi'ning and his ladies, princes, princesses and sons-in-law. They renovated the Huangqing Monastery and had new caves cut out. Because of the special position enjoyed by the á¡kya sect of Tantrism, the Dunhuang caves during the Yuan Dynasty produced Tantric art of Tibetan style.
Cave No. 16, Western Xia
The rule of Western Xia and the Yuan Dynasty over Hexi lasted for almost three hundred years, and during this time more than eighty caves were constructed at Mogao. Of the seventy odd caves created during Western Xia, the majority involved the renovation of caves of the earlier dynasties, with very few new ones being cut. There were about ten caves created during the Yuan Dynasty, mostly new caves. The Western Xia did a fairly thorough renovation of the caves of the previous dynasties. Cave Nos. 246 and 263 were originally of Northern Wei origin. The central column of Cave No. 263 of Northern Wei was modified into one without any niche on three sides; only the eastern side has a large altar in the centre. Although the central column of Cave No. 246 had retained the niches on all the four sides, all the murals and statues were repainted and remoulded during Western Xia, so that it appears to be a completely new Western Xia cave. Because a large number of Western Xia caves at Mogao Grottoes was created by renovating old caves of the previous dynasties, no special characteristic of Western Xia emerged in the pattern and structure of the caves.
|At the same time, the contents of
the murals and the statues also adopted the Northern Song pattern. The newly cut caves of
the Yuan Dynasty can be classified into three categories based on their pattern and
structure: (1) a square cave with an inverted dipper ceiling; (2) a rectangular main room
with a central column at the rear; and (3) a square main room with a round altar in the
centre. The latter is typical of the pattern of the Tantric caves at Dunhuang. There are
statues on the altar with the four walls filled with Tantric paintings.The surviving stucco images/dunhuang of Western Xia feature Buddhas, his disciples and
Bodhisattvas, etc. There are also statues of á¡kyamuni and Prabh£taratna sitting
together to preach. They have a plump face and a smooth skin; the folds of their dresses
flow smoothly, retaining the styles of the Tang and Song periods. The images/dunhuang of the
celestial female worshippers of Cave No. 491, which were discovered during the
archaeological excavations of the 1960s, have a simple and plain appearance, a broad
forehead, with the hair tied in two rings on the sides. They wear large-sleeved shirt with
cloud-shaped shoulders, a long skirt covering the knees, with tassels hanging from both
sides. The dress called guayi was the ceremonial dress of the noble ladies of China. The
statues are after the style of the Song Dynasty.
The murals of the Western Xia and Yuan Dynasties were many in number, consisting of four main categories: images/dunhuang of deities, S£tra illustrations, portraits of donors and decorative patterns.1. images/dunhuang of Deities The images/dunhuang of deities created during the Western Xia and Yuan Dynasties in a span of almost three hundred years can be further divided into non-Tantric and Tantric images/dunhuang. The non-Tantric images/dunhuang are those of BhaiÀajyaguru, Avalokite¿vara, the sixteen Arhats and the "Moon-and-Water" Avalokite¿vara, etc.
Cave No. 97, Western Xia
The painting of the "Moon-and-Water" Avalokite¿vara began to appear from the Tang Dynasty onwards. In the Shengguang Monastery, in the courtyard south-east to the pagoda, is painted the "Moon-and-Water" Avalokite¿vara by Zhou Fang42 who is honoured as the "creator of the "Moon-and-Water image".43 The same deity appears in the silk paintings which were discovered from the same cave as that of the Dunhuang Manuscripts. The Bodhisattva wears a jewel-studded crown, and has his hair in a high bun with garlands on his person. He is seated on a rock in ardha-padm¡sana. Behind him there is a back halo, a crescent moon and green waves.
|Bai Juyi has praised the image of
the" Moon-and-Water" in his immortal lines:
images/dunhuang of sixteen Arhats as the central theme of a cave was a trend which originated in Cave No. 97 cut in Western Xia. On the south and north walls are painted eight Arhats each, in sixteen square compositions. The Arhats each have their individual characteristics: the thick eyebrows, big eyes, long noses and deep-set eyes and various strange postures remind us of the historical comments on the sixteen Arhats drawn by the Chanyue Master of the Five Dynasties, Guanxiu: "These figures with thick eyebrows and big eyes, drooping cheeks and high nose, sitting on the rocks and leaning against the pine trees, sitting on the mountains and by the waterside, with foreign looks and Indian appearances, provide a feast of portrayal."45 The Arhat images/dunhuang of Western Xia seem to have acquired a style of the "romantic and unrestrained" images/dunhuang of Guanxiu.
There are images/dunhuang of Maµju¿r¢ with thousand arms and thousand bowls seated in utku¶uk¡sana on Mount Sumeru, every one of their thousand hands holding a bowl. From every bowl there emerges a Nirm¡¸abuddha. The entire composition is in the shape of a wheel.46 Mount Sumeru emerges prominently from the ocean, with two intertwined dragons holding it and the sun and moon on each side.
The thousand-armed and the thousand-eyed Avalokite¿varas are different in expression and composition, depending on the date of their production by different artists. In the Zhizheng Era (1341-1368) of the Yuan Dynasty, one image of the thousand-armed and thousand-eyed Avalokite¿vara was created in Cave No. 3 in which there are a few other figures. There is Avalokite¿vara with eleven heads which pile up like a pagoda, while the thousand arms and the thousand hands form a wheel. "There is a benevolent eye in the palm of each hand."47 As described in the bianwen literature of Dunhuang: "His thousand eyes observe the remote [sufferings of the people], while his thousand hands come to their rescue." The upper portion has flying figures; on either side are deities like Punyatara, Lakshm¢, V¡sudeva, Ucchushma and Vin¡yaka painted realistically. Most of the figures have the images/dunhuang of China, some looking even like Taoist gods. The line drawing is skilful, with rich variations. Rounded, smooth and forceful iron-hard lines are used to sketch out the face and limbs and the body while folded-reel lines used for the heavy and thick pleats of the garments and broad top and thin end lines which can vary with their accents are clearly used to depict the lines of muscles of the warriors. Gossamer lines bring out the fluffy hair and beard. In order to depict the different qualities, the artists judiciously varied different lines to make the figures vivid and moving. Their techniques clearly show the high degree of development in the art of the Yuan Dynasty.
Hevajredaprabha Buddha, Cave No. 61
Vasudeva, Cave No. 3, Yuan Dynasty
In Cave No. 61 on the south wall of the corridor there is the huge image of Hevajredaprabha Buddha (Buddha with light streaming from every pore). Most probably the caves were repaired during the Yuan Dynasty when this image was repainted. The Buddha in the painting is seated on a wheeled carriage with one finger of his right hand supporting the dharmacakra. In the front there are Devas leading the way while the dragon banners flutter behind them followed by Vajra warriors. The sky is filled with a multitude of Devas together with Nakshatra-r¡jas. The scripture says: "In the past á¡kyamuni lived in Devapura and told Maµju¿r¢ and the other Bodhisattvas, Mah¡sattvas along with the four categories of celestial inmates, the eight categories of supernatural beings, the Navagrahas, the seven brilliant stars, the twelve deities, twenty-eight Nakshatras, the sun and moon and all the constellations that,
|"In the past I had gone to
the abode of the King of s¡la tree and obtained this
dh¡ra¸i dharma of
eliminate all disasters. If there are national boundaries in the future world, the sun and
moon and the five stars, R¡hu, Ketu, devils and evil stars shine upon the universe
and constellations under my jurisdiction...all disasters will be eliminated automatically,
causing no harm to anyone."48 The painting we have just discussed must have
been closely related to the main statue of Maµju¿r¢ in the same cave.The second kind of portraits of deities is the tantric painting in Tibetan style.
The mural in Cave No. 465 is tantric art of the á¡kya sect. We see Buddha of the
Five Directions centring around Vairocana-Tath¡gata This cave also features the
angry images/dunhuang of the "mingwang" (vidy¡r¡jas), and the joyful
devas and joyful vajras in the form of a couple embracing each other. The Vidy¡r¡jas have fierce and vicious looks, dancing with naked bodies. Their
figures are proportionate and drawn by refined lines, and coloured with three-dimensional
effect. Murals of this genre have obviously been influenced by Nepal and India. They also
contain elements of the indigenous Tibetan religion and give play to the unique style of
the art of the á¡kya
2. The Sµutra Illustrations
Bhaisajyaguru Buddha, Cave No. 310, Western Xia
From the time of Western Xia the S£tra illustrations became increasingly fewer in number. There were only two or three themes like "The Western pureland paradise of Amit¡bha" and "The paradise of Bhaishajyaguru". The paintings lacked liveliness, the composition lacked variation. Some of the vivid elements of the s£tra illustrations of the previous dynasties like the magnificent pavilion, music and dance and so on became a rarity. Moreover, but for the sitting postures and mudr¡ of Buddha as well as the appearance of Aupap¡daka Kum¡ras it would be virtually impossible to distinguish one s£tra illustration from another. Evidently, the sµutra illustrations of Mah¡y¡nism were on the road to decline faced with extensive dissemination of Tantrism.
|3. Portraits of
Donors After the Northern Song Dynasty there
were fewer portraits of donors at Mogao. During the middle of Western Xia, there emerged
some portraits of donors of Uighur nationality of which those of the Uighur King and his
family in Cave No. 409 are portraits of their own style. The figures have plump faces. The
King wears a white felt cap with dragon designs, a robe with circular dragons and long
felt boots. Behind him are the attendants holding an umbrella and soldiers carrying
weapons. The portraits of the lady show her wearing a hat richly adorned, an open collar,
narrow-sleeved red robe. She is painted in a similar style and characterization as the
Uighur donors found among the Beziklik caves of the Uighur period in Gaochang of Turfan.
During the Western Xia, Uighur tribals spread all over the Hexi Corridor. There were
Uighurs' Ganzhou in the east, those from Gaochang and Kuca in the west, there were local
Uighurs in Shazhou in the fifth year of the Tianhui Era (1127). The Khan of Shazhou Uighur
sent a tribute mission to the court of Jin (Nurchen) in north China.49 The donor
portraits of Uighur Kings left behind from Western Xia in the Dunhuang caves are also
important cultural relics.
During the later period of Western Xia there appeared portraits of female donors belonging to the Dangxiang nationality. Their faces are long and thin. They wear hats with jewels hanging on the edge or hats made of fur. They also wear narrow-sleeved shirts and skirts and bow-shaped pointed shoes. This is more or less the modified version of the heartland Chinese fashion.
There are a couple of portraits of donors in the caves of Yuan Dynasty. Their faces are broad and plump. They wear big hats with a broad brim, a narrow-sleeved gown, boots for all seasons (liulexue). This is the typical Mongolian costume. The female donors wear the 'ququ' hats, embroidered dress, their robe is so long that two maids have to hold it to prevent it from sweeping the ground. This is the attire typical of Mongolian ladies.
Although there were only a few portraits of donors of Western Xia and Yuan periods, they clearly reflect their national characteristics in dress and decorations.4. Decorative Patterns
The decorative patterns of the last phase of the Mogao Grottoes developed more or less on the basis of the work of the Art Academy of the Cao family and bear the new features of their times. The motifs include: peony, pomegranate, lotus, orchid leaf, cluster of flowers and other floral designs. There are other patterns of ancient coins, chains of rings, the curvature of the spinal column of the tortoise's back, lock, svastika, whirling lines and other geometric patterns. There are also auspicious designs like circular dragons, hovering phoenixes, rolling clouds and so on. Of these, the dragon and phoenix designs are the most prominent. The compositions of the rolling clouds and circular dragons, a couple of dragons playing with a pearl,* five hovering dragons, a lone phoenix spreading its wings, a couple of phoenixes circling around are the motifs seen on the caisson, hat, robe and flag, emphasized by relief and gold wash. The ceiling in Cave No. 130 is a caisson shaped like a canopy adorned by golden dragons typical of the design of Western Xia. The corridor in Cave No. 61 which features the portraits of Hevajredaprabha Buddha with dragon banners fluttering behind the chariot also represents decorative art of the last phase.
Cave No. 99, Western Xia
After the Tang Dynasty, the cave art of Mogao entered its last phase which lingered on for more than four hundred years, and experienced four different regimes of three different nationalities: the Five Dynasties, Northern Song, Western Xia and Yuan Dynasty. All the rulers strongly patronized Buddhism and undertook uninterrupted cave building activities at Dunhuang. The creators of the cave art belonged to different nationalities, of whom the artists and sculptors of Han nationality were Dong Baode, Zhang Hongen, Li Yuanxin, Wang Ande, Li Cunzui. Those of Dangxiang nationality were led by artist Bao Chongde, while those from Kuca were led by Bai Banzhi. There were also Central Asian artist An Cunli and Indian artist Zhu Bao who had settled down in Dunhuang. This shows that Dunhuang cave art is in reality an art treasury created by people of various nationalities of China, absorbing the influences from foreign countries.
Cave No. 65, Western Xia
During both the periods of development of the last phase there were outstanding achievements and several prominent special features.
Particularly in the characterization of the eight categories of supernatural beings, the ten great Buddha disciples, the brush shows power and a sense of flight mood with great inner strength. TheN¡gar¡jas and the attendants of Maµju¿r¢ and Samantabhadra in Cave No. 36 as well as Maµju¿r¢ in new design in Cave No. 220 consist of model works of art produced by Art Academy. Only from the time of Cao Yunzhong onwards lines be they in black ink or ochre red began to weaken, and sometimes drawn with a quivering hand. This is described as quivering and wave-line sketch. Actually, it is an indication of the deterioration of brush power and deficiency of aesthetic cultivation.
We must make a special mention of the landscape painting. Originally landscape was painted as the backdrop of divine and human figures. Beginning from the paintings of horizontal landscape in the illustrations in Cave No. 32 3 of Early Tang, the paintings of the "Illusory City" of Cave Nos. 217 and 103, there was an increase of the sense of depth and vastness. During the period of the Five Dynasties, the Map of Mount Wutai in Cave No. 61 further gained an independent status for landscape painting. The Map of Mount Wutai is the largest landscape painting in a thousand years of Dunhuang paintings. It combines reality with imagination. By using the bird's-eye view perspective method the artists have transposed onto the wall thousand miles of landscape of a multitude of mountain peaks and other scenarios of land and water together with the customs and living conditions of the people. Viewed from a distance it is magnificent while on closer examination it has all the vivid details of life. The brush work achieves what is described as "with a few strokes the picture is naturally composed". The composition shows a mastery of management and organization with concentration of objects and activities effortlessly planted amidst their dispersion. The Map created the beginning of the "free-will" style in Chinese landscape painting.In the illustrations of the s£tras and other stories, the paintings of this period demonstrate a tendency of stereotyping as compared with the early period and Tang period of Dunhuang murals. The increasing use of inscriptions cut apart the painting scenes. The increase in writing adopting the "Bian Wen" style augments the explanatory quality of the murals while diluting the aesthetic scenario, reducing the artistic appeal of the murals.
After the Cao Art Academy, the style and themes of the Mogao art underwent a major change. Although the early murals of Western Xia inherited the scheme of the Cao Family Art Academy they suffered a poverty of themes, catering more to the decorative effect at the cost of depth. Later, the characterization of figures came under the influence of the murals of Gaochang Uighur, creating deity and human figures with both Chinese and Dangxiang national features while continuing the process of sinicization of Buddhist art.
Flying Figure, Cave No. 3, Yuan Dynasty
Lakshmi, Cave No.3, Yuan Dynasty
Besides inheriting the orchid-leaf lines of the Cao Art Academy, line drawing during the Five Dynasties was also influenced by the forceful strokes of the twisted reed lines of heartland China invented probably by Liang Kai and Li Gongling which received further elaboration among the murals of Mogao during the Western Xia. Here the lines became harder which was propably due to the special quality of Western Xia brushes made of goat's hair. The murals of Western Xia were monotonous in colouring. The quality of pigments was also poor. In many caves, all hues except the background of mineral green painted then have changed colour. Mineral green is a sober and cool colouring; hence has become the principal feature of cave art of Western Xia.
|The Tantric theme was very prominent in
the murals of the Yuan Dynasty and it was particularly due to the influence of the
á¡kya sect from Tibet. Although only a few caves were cut, they introduced a new
style and broke new ground in cave art, changing the lifeless atmosphere of the Mogao
Grottoes during the last phase.
In Cave No. 3 (of the Yuan Dynasty), artist Shi Xiaoyu from Ganzhou combined the twisted reed lines with iron-hard lines, gossamer lines and flat-top and thin-end lines and brought about a very high achievement of line drawing in characterization. His canvas looks elegant and less gorgeous which is the typical style of the painting of the heartland China. This contrasts sharply with the Tantric "Secret temple" of Cave No. 465 where there is a heavy dose of thick and bright colours. The latter produces a sense of fear amidst its magnificence of hue which is another realm of its own kind. This is virtually the lone specimen of the art of á¡kya Tantric style among the Mogao Grottoes, but even this lone example has inspired great admiration among art lovers.
After this phase, the construction work at Mogao came to a stop. During the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty there was a spur of renovation activities at Dunhuang. These activities resulted in an adulteration of the themes and the production of poor quality art which destroyed the aesthetic appeal of Dunhuang. Thus they should not be listed in accounts of Dunhuang cave construction. The real end in cave art at Dunhuang came with the relatively few but skilfully painted caves during the Yuan Dynasty.
©1994 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi