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From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang dynasty, 9th century AD
This huge fragment - now mounted as a hanging scroll - was once part of a splendid composition which was at least two metres high. All that remains of the lokapala (guardian figure) is the half-open mouth, the shoulders, upper body and a hand holding an arrow. Sensitive, broken lines are used for the hand, while the beard is shown in very thin controlled lines. This compares to a painting of the bodhisattva Vajrapani also from Mogao (no. 1919,1-1.0.132), though there the lokapala is much less energetic and frightening in appearance.
Details such as the metal buckles on the belt and the floral patterns are meticulously observed and executed. The beautifully preserved colours and fine lines show the excellence of the Mogao workshops, and how familiar the artists were with the achievements of Chinese painting in the Imperial court.
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)