The Art of Dunhuang

Dunhuang Research Academy

Figure 1: Mogao Grottoes along the cliff, Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

Among the must-see treasures of the world are the 1600 year old Dunhuang cave-temple museums. They include the Mogao Grottoes, the Yulin Grottoes, the Western Thousand Buddha Grottoes, the Eastern Thousand Buddha Grottoes, and the Five Temple Grottoes.

Among them, Mogaoku (the Mogao Grottoes, also known as Caves of Thousand Buddhas) is the most magnificent. A total of 735 caves (including 492 containing artwork) have been identified. They were constructed along the cliff facing east, extending from north to south ( Figure 1). The decorated caves are found mainly in the southern section.

Cave art is an invention of the ancient Indian Buddhists, but their achievement was far surpassed by the Chinese grottoes, both in grandeur and in the length of time the original artwork has remained in situ.

Besides the ample achievement in visual art, the Dunhuang art is a witness to the toleration and fusion of different cultures. It didn’t inherit any one single style; instead it assimilated many different influences from metropolitan China, Central Asia and India, and integrated them into a unique style.

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