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- In DunhuangArt
From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang Dynasty, 8th-9th century AD
A Buddhist monastic robe
Sir Marc Aurel Stein originally suggested that this large patchwork was an altar-cloth, though it has now been identified as a kasaya, a Buddhist monastic robe. The symmetrical arrangement of patches along a central vertical axis is consistent with the prescribed form for a kasaya. Even though these patches of cloth were originally meant as a sign of humility, a splendid array of silks has been used in this example.
The patchwork comprises seven vertical columns of fabric enclosed by a border of plain silk printed with blue foliated scrolls. Within the border are woven or printed silks with a rosette design. The dominating floral motif embroidered in the centre has largely disintegrated, revealing the silk patches used for strengthening. Only two small white panels of floral embroidery still remain intact.
The magnificence of the materials used and the presence of purple suggest that the wearer must have been a priest of high rank. Hong Bian (active in the mid-ninth century), the head priest who is commemorated in the cave where these textiles were found, had been given the right to wear purple by the emperor. Small pieces of purple silk were also found inside his statue.
M. Aurel Stein, Serindia: detailed report of e, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1921)
R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Stein, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)
R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)