Wednesday, March 29, 2017

North American Silk Road Collections: the East Asian Library and the Gest Collection of Princeton University

Since the beginning of the Georgetown-IDP Project on North American Silk Road Collections last fall, IDP has worked with more than thirty institutions to include their pieces on the IDP database. However, there are also a few North American institutions who joined IDP before the current project. One such institution, the East Asian Library and the Gest Collection of Princeton University, has been an IDP partner since 2007. The East Asian Library and the Gest Collection boasts rare manuscripts from Dunhuang and Turfan, collectively known as the 'Princeton University East Asian Library Collection of Dunhuang and Turfan Materials.' Prior to being housed in Princeton University, these materials were collected by James C. M. Lo 羅寄梅 (1902-1987) and his wife Lucy Lo 羅先 (née 劉), Zhang Daqian 張大千, from whom the Los obtained some manuscripts, and Guion M. Gest (1864-1948).

In total 158 manuscripts in the Dunhuang and Turfan collections consist of those in classical Chinese, Tangut, and Old Turkic, and also contain fragmentary paintings and drawings. The manuscripts in Chinese have been catalogued (Chen and Tomasko 2010 a, b), and as a part of the current Georgetown-IDP Project, IDP will update information about those written in non-Chinese languages for the new IDP database. One such non-Chinese manuscript is PEALD_6r, a Buddhist manuscript illuminated with intriguing images such as huge snakes and a man burning in a blazing flame.

PEALD_6r (Daśakarmapathāvadānamālā)
© The East Asian Library and the Gest Collection, Princeton University

PEALD_6r, mounted on a light tan paper, consists of text written in Old Turkic in Uyghur script, an illustration, and seals. There are two seals on the manuscript, 'Zhang Yuan 張爰' and 'Daqian jushi 大千居士' both of which indicate that this manuscript was originally in the collection of Zhang Daqian. Two additional seals on the mounting respectively read '不負古人告後人' (Respectful of the ancients while informing posterity) and '雷音寺供養' (From the Collection of Leiyinsi). The former was also used by Zhang Daqian, while the latter is one of the personal seals of James and Lucy Lo, indicating that the manuscript was also once in the possession of James and Lucy Lo (Chen and Tomasko 2010a, 9-12; Chen 2010b, 186-8).

This beautifully illustrated manuscript is a crystallization of the rich cultural interactions along the Silk Road. This and other pages were possibly bound together by a string through a hole pierced at the center of the circle on the left-hand side, such as the pustaka (palm-leaf book) format widely used in South and Southeast Asia (for a Manichaean example of an illustrated pustaka folio from Murtuk, see Gulacsi 2005, 188-191). The text is in Old Turkic vertically written in Uyghur script. This was developed from the Sogdian script, itself developed from Aramaic. The text has been identified as a part of Daśakarmapathāvadānamālā (Garland of legends pertaining to the ten courses of action), in which a teacher explains the ten modes of misdeeds to a disciple by retelling commonly known Buddhist narratives. The textual part contained in PEALD_6r is a dialogue on the effect of anger between the teacher and his disciple (Wilkens 2016b, 738-9). The colophons of this work inform that the Old Turkic version was translated from a version in Tocharian A, which was based on the same text in Tocharian B. This suggests that the text was translated into Old Turkic in the early phase of the Buddhist literature of the West Uyghur Kingdom (mid 9th - early 13th c.) (Wilkens 2016b, 9-10).

The illumination, placed in the middle of the page, is thought to be for a narrative in the tenth chapter (Wilkens 2016b, 738). The influence of Uyghur Manichaean art, whose tradition traces back further to West Asia, and of Sogdian art has been noted in the illustrated manuscripts of Daśakarmapathāvadānamālā in Old Turkic, including PEALD_6r, because of the use of gold and similarity to a wall painting from Shorchuk near Karashahr (British Museum, 1919,0101,0.279.d) (Wilkens 2016a, 209-213). A large snake is coiling itself around two male figures in Turkic attire. On the other hand, there is also an element unmistakably inspired by Chinese culture. The building in which a monk and a few other figures are residing has red-painted wooden elements and a partially green-tiled roof. Along with the 'post-and-lintel system seen here, such elements are essentialized and simplified elements of Chinese architecture seen in murals widely across the Hexi Corridor and the Tarim Basin (present-day Gansu Province and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) since the late fourth – early fifth century (Steinhardt 2005, 175). Turfan was formerly a part of the Tang dynasty, and the post-and-lintel system was practically used in actual buildings in the Turfan region. There, it was also mixed with other architectural techniques and styles. Examples of such include wooden corbel brackets as well as beams being structurally anchored into earth walls, and wooden parts painted in the typical Uyghur style of the 10th and 11th centuries (Ruitenbeek 2016).

One of praṇidhi paintings from Bezeklik Cave 20 (MIK IB 6887_2; lost during the Second World War)(Click here for colour image)
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst

Painted during the West Uyghur Kingdom, some of the praṇidhi murals in the Bezeklik Caves in Turfan also depict Chinese architecture. The genre of praṇidhi paintings is considered to have developed in Kucha where Tocharian Buddhism was practiced, and the genre later reached Turfan (Konczak 2012; Mori 2015). Similar to the case of PEALD_6r, what we see here are Chinese architectural elements used as a background detail of Uyghur Buddhist art originally based on Tocharian Buddhism. The painters used a mixed Central-Asian and strongly Chinese architectural style for the praṇidhi paintings, although architectural elements inspired by the architecture of further western areas, such as later and transformed versions of Corinthian marble capitals, were co-existing with the Uyghur-Chinese style in Kocho (Gaochang; one of the capitals of the West Uyghur Kingdom) (Ruitenbeek 2016,109-112, 122). Also without major interrelations between the paintings’ inscriptions and painted architecture, one possible interpretation for the inclusion of Chinese architecture in these praṇidhi paintings is to exhibit the incorporation of China into the multi-cultural, Uyghur-centric sphere (Steinhardt 2004, 188).

Whether Chinese architecture was consciously selected for PEALD_6r or was simply copied from an architectural template of Buddhist art as a background detail cannot be easily answered. Yet PEALD_6r allows us to catch a glimpse of the complex spiritual sphere of the West Uyghur Kingdom and the formation of its Buddhist art in which various cultural elements along the Silk Road interacted with each other.


Chen, Huaiyu and Nancy Norton Tomasko, eds. 2010a. “Chinese-Language Texts from Dunhuang and Turfan in the Princeton University East Asian Library.” The East Asian Library Journal 14 (2): 1-13.

Chen, Huaiyu and Nancy Norton Tomasko, eds. 2010b. “A Descriptive Catalogue of the Dunhuang and Turfan Materials.” The East Asian Library Journal 14 (2): 13-208.

Gulácsi, Zsuzsanna. 2005. Mediaeval Manichaean book art: a codicological study of Iranian and Turkic illuminated book fragments from 8th-11th century East Central Asia. Leiden : Brill.

Konczak, Ines. 2012. “Origin, Development and Meaning of the Praṇidhi Paintings on the Northern Silk Road.” In Buddhism and Art in Turfan: From the Perspective of Uyghur Buddhism [Buddhist Culture along the Silk Road: Gandhāra, Kucha, and Turfan – Section II], 43-75. Kyoto : Ryukoku University.

Mori Michiyo 森美智代. 2015. “Kiji sekkutsu no ‘ritsubutsu no retsuzō’ to seiganzu ni tsuite” 亀茲石窟の「立仏の列像」と誓願図について [On Depictions of “Row of Standing Buddha” and Praṇidhi]. Bukkyō Geijutsu 仏教芸術 [Ars Buddhica] 340: 9-36.

Ruitenbeek, Klaas with contributions from Ines Koncak-Nagel and an Appendix by Gudrun Melzer. 2016. "Ruin Q in Kochoand its Wooden Architectural Elements." In The Ruins of Kocho: Traces of Wooden Architecture on the Ancient Silk Road, 103-126. Berlin : Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Russell-Smith, Lilla and Ines Konzak-Nagel, eds. 2016. The Ruins of Kocho: Traces of Wooden Architecture on the Ancient Silk Road. Berlin : Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman. 2004. “Red Lintels, Green Rooftops: The Role of Architecture in Eight Paintings from Temple 9 at Bezeklik.” In Cultural interaction and conflict in Central and Inner Asia : papers presented at the Central and Inner Asian Seminar, University of Toronto, 3-4 May 2002 and 23-24 May 2003 , edited by Michael Gervers, Uradyn Erden Bulag, and Gillian Long. Vol 6 of Toronto studies in Central and Inner Asia, 175-188. Toronto : Asian Institute, University of Toronto.

Wilkens, Jens. 2016a. “Buddhism in the West Uyghur Kingdom and Beyond.” In Transfer of Buddhism across Central Asian networks (7th to 13th centuries), edited by Carmen Meinert, 191-249. Leiden ; Boston : Brill.

Wilkens, Jens. 2016b. Buddhistische Erzählungen aus dem alten Zentralasien: Edition der altuigurischen Daśakarmapathāvadānamālā. Turnhout : Brepols.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Martin Haijdra of the East Asian Library and the Gest Collection of Princeton University, Dr. Zsuzsanna Gulácsi of Northern Arizona University, and Dr. Lilla Russell-Smith of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst for their help in writing this blog entry.

Friday, January 27, 2017

North American Silk Road Collections: A Mañjuśrī’s prayer sheet from Dunhuang in the Cincinnati Art Museum

In this blog post, I would like to introduce the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Prayer Sheet (1992.139) from Dunhuang, which is an important comparative piece to similar prayer sheets in other collections. The Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM), one of the oldest arts institutions in the United States, was founded with the goal to bring a public art museum to the area for the benefit of all citizens during the years following the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia. The CAM’s diverse, encyclopaedic art collection spanning 6,000 years, includes a prayer sheet from Dunhuang that documents an aspect of rich religious culture of the region around the tenth century.

This print was purchased by the CAM, yet was reportedly collected by Paul Pelliot. The rectangular sheet consists of two parts: an image of a Buddhist deity and text. The upper portion mainly contains figures of Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva, the bodhisattva of wisdom, seated on a lion, a man who is holding reins of the lion, and a boy who is revering the bodhisattva with his hands joined in prayer. A similar painting of Mañjuśrī in Mogao Cave 220, facing front on the lion mount and with these two attendants, is dated to 925 and called the 'new-style' Mañjuśrī (xinyang Wenshu) based on its inscription. The boy is Sudhana, whose spiritual journey begins from his encounter with Mañjuśrī in the final chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. The man’s heavily bearded face and clothes suggest his non-Han ethnic origin, and indeed, this figure is usually identified as the king of Khotan, a Central Asian kingdom.

Mañjuśrī’s prayer sheet, 1992.139 © Cincinnati Art Museum (click to zoom in)

The text in the lower portion advocates devotion to Mañjuśrī, describing the efficacy of the bodhisattva and providing the verbal incantations of Mañjuśrī. The cult of Mañjuśrī as a resident bodhisattva of Mt. Wutai in Shanxi Province flourished in the Tang dynasty and persisted throughout history. The bodhisattva’s great popularity reached remote Dunhuang. Extant Dunhuang paintings and prints reflect a rich variety of Mañjuśrī’s cult. In Dunhuang Buddhist art, Mañjuśrī was frequently paired with Vimalakīrti and Samantabhadra, and Mañjuśrī in the thousand-armed form was depicted with the Thousand-armed Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin). (Wang 2016)

Different variations of Mañjuśrī's prayer sheets survived among the Dunhuang Buddhist art. For example, a group of Mañjuśrī prayer sheets can be distinguished by the complete halo of the bodhisattva and a missing stroke in the character xiang 相 in the third line of the text (added by hand in many cases). In another group of sheets, to which the CAM print belongs, the halo is truncated at the top and the character xiang is complete. Other overall differences between these two groups include the extant number of prints, the quality of printing, and the size and types of paper. (Kikutake 1975, 12-13)

Mañjuśrī’s prayer sheet with a complete halo, Pelliot chinois 4514 (2)21 © Bibliothèque nationale de France (click to zoom in)

A number of extant pieces inform us of the variety in the usage of Mañjuśrī prayer sheets in worship. Some sheets have holes in the four corners, most likely for mounting on a wall, and another example has a silk loop at the top for hanging. One intriguing example is a large sheet with four prayer sheets pasted on its surface. The sheet was completed with a painting of a seated Buddha and an invocation to the “Buddha of Heavenly Radiance” (南无天光明佛) at the centre.

Woodblock print with four impressions of Mañjuśrī, 1919,0101,0.239 (Ch.00204) © The British Museum (click to zoom in)

The Mañjuśrī’s prayer sheet was also combined with those of other Buddhist deities, including Amitābha Buddha and Avalokiteśvara. Such variations in the arrangement of Mañjuśrī’s prayer sheets also reflect the rich variety in the cult of this bodhisattva in Dunhuang.


Avril, Ellen B., and Nora Ling-yün Shih, eds. 1997. Chinese art in the Cincinnati Art Museum. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum.

Kikutake Jun’ichi 菊竹淳一. 1975. “Tonkō no bukkyō hanga – Daiei hakubutsukan to Pari kokuritsu toshokan shūzōhin o chūshin ni” 敦煌の仏教版画 ―大英博物館とパリ国立図書館収蔵品を中心に [Buddhist Prints from Dunhuang: Pieces in The Collections of The British Library and The Biliothèque Nationale de France]. Bukkyō Geijutsu 仏教芸術 [Ars Buddhica] 101: 3-35.

Nakata Mie 中田美繪. 2009. “Godaisan Monju shinkō to ōken – Tōdai Daisō ki ni okeru Kinkakuji shūchiku no bunseki o tsūjite - .” 五臺山文殊信仰と王權―唐代代宗期における金閣寺修築の分析を通じて― [The Mañjuśrī cult on Wu-t'ai-shan and kingship: through an analysis of the reconstruction of Chin-ko-ssu during the reign of Tai-tsung in the T'ang]. Tōhōgaku [Eastern Studies] 117: 40-58.

Sha Wutian 沙武田. 2005. “Dunhuang P.4049 ‘xinyang Wenshu’huagao ji xiangguan wenti yanjiu” 敦煌P.4049“新样文殊”画稿及相关问题研究 [A Study of P.4049: A Draft of Drawing Demonstration for a New Styled Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva and Other Relative Questions]. Dunhuang Yanjiu 敦煌研究 [Dunhuang Research] 2005(3): 26-32.

Sun Xiaogang 孙晓岗. 2007. Wenshu pusa tuxiang xue yanjiu 文殊菩萨图像学研究 [A Bodhisattva of Wisdom: Iconography Study]. Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe.

Tsiang, Katherine R. 2010. “Buddhist Printed Images and Texts of the Eighth-tenth centuries: Typologies of Replication and Representation.” In Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang, edited by Matthew Kapstein and Sam Van Schaik, 201-252. Leiden: Brill.

Wang, Michelle C. 2016. “The Thousand-armed Mañjuśrī at Dunhuang and Paired Images in Buddhist Visual Culture.” Archives of Asian Art 66(1): 81-105.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Cincinnati Museum of Art, Dr. Hou-mei Sung, and Mr. Robert Deslongchamps for their support for the Georgetown-IDP project.

Friday, December 2, 2016

North American Silk Road Collections: A Kizil fragment in the Detroit Institute of Arts

It is with great pleasure that I announce that the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and the IDP have finalized an agreement to include a Buddhist mural painting fragment from the DIA in the IDP database. This will go onto the new IDP website when it becomes lives in 2017. Before this, I would like to introduce this beautiful piece which happens to be one of the Le Coq pieces from the Kizil caves featured in my previous blog post.

The Detroit Institute of Arts was founded in 1885 in Detroit, Michigan, the city known for its auto industry. Since then, the DIA served for the cultural development of this industrial city, boasting one of the top collections in the United States. Its multicultural and multinational collection contains a diverse range of Asian art, including a mural fragment from the Kizil Caves.

Four Heads of Buddhist Divinities, 28.67 © Detroit Institute of Arts

This mural fragment consists of four heads of Buddhist deities, three facing to their right in a three-quarter view and one similarly to the left. It is clear that the fragment was once a part of a larger composition covering the wall of a Kizil cave. Based on its back inscription and stylistic similarity with other fragments and murals in situ, this piece is considered to originate from Cave 224 (Mâyâhöhle, 3. Anlage).

Cave 224 is a type of central pillar cave in the Kizil Caves, in which a circumambulatory corridor excavated in the rear part of the main room creates a square, pillar-like structure which also doubled as an altar for the Buddha’s statue. The DIA’s fragment is considered to belong to one of the side walls of the space in front of this pillar (Ueno 1980, 56). In this type of caves, the preaching scenes of the Buddha were often depicted on these side walls of the front space, and so were those in Cave 224. While the exact location of the DIA piece on the walls await further investigation, the four figures on the mural fragment are most likely attendants of more major figures, most likely the Buddha on the side walls.

Interior of a central pillar cave with wall paintings of preaching scenes and A. Grünwedel at work, B 1739
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst

These and other attending figures appearing on many mural fragments preserved in North American collections are rather anonymous in many cases, yet they are indispensable and invaluable as cultural remains. This is not only because of the overall low number of remaining murals from cave shrines, but also because of visual narratives according to which the space for prayer was constructed inside caves. In the case of Kizil Cave 224, scenes based on the Buddha’s past and present life events and preachings adorned most part of the interior walls including the ceiling, and also Maitreya, the future Buddha, was depicted in the guise of Bodhisattva in the Tuṣita Heaven on a lunette above the main room’s exit. After moving from the antechamber to the main room of the cave, visitors were first greeted by a now-lost statue of the Buddha in the niche of the column, then went through the corridor where they saw the scenes of the Buddha’s Great Extinction (parinirvāṇa) on the rear wall of the cave. Following the scenes of events after the Buddha’s departure, such as cremation and division of his relics, the visitors encounter Maitreya in the Tuṣita Heaven above the exit.

As Buddhists revered the statue of the Buddha and circumambulated the pillar, they traveled through the space in devotion to the Buddha and Buddhist teachings, where axes of past, present and future time cross. Attendant figures on mural fragments of the DIA certainly contributed to the orchestration of this devotional space.


Digital Silk Road Project, National Institute of Informatics. 2016. "Database for Buddhist Cave Temples in China."Accessed November 28.

Miyaji Akira. 1992. Nehan to Miroku no zuzōgaku: Indo kara Chūō Ajia e 涅槃と弥勒の図像学: インドから中央アジアへ [Iconography of parinirvānạ and Maitreya : from India to Central Asia]. Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kōbunkan.

Ueno Aki 上野アキ. 1980. “Kijiru dai san ku maya dō hekiga seppō zu - jō: Ru・Kokku shūshū saiiki hekiga chōsa, 2” キジル第三区マヤ洞壁画説法図—上: ル・コック収集西域壁画調査 2 [Mural paintings of preaching scenes in Māyāhöhle, 3. Anlage, first part: Research on the mural paintings from the Western Regions collected by Le Coq, 2]. Bijutsu kenkyū 美術研究 [Journal of Art Studies] 312 (February):48–61.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Detroit Institute of Arts, Dr. Birgitta Augustine (former curator of the Arts of Asia and the Islamic World of the DIA), and Ms. Susan Higman Larsen for their support for the Georgetown-IDP project.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

IDP Job Vacancy: GIS Research Curator

An exciting opportunity has arisen in IDP at the British Library for a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Research Curator. Working as part of a small team, you will be responsible for the development of an online map interface, creation of suitable content for base maps, and implementation of spatial search functions for inscriptions, manuscripts and other archaeological objects. This is a key post in a European Research Commission Synergy Project Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State, a collaboration between the British Library, British Museum and School of Oriental and African Studies.

The post requires a post-graduate degree, or its equivalent, in a directly relevant field, and the successful candidate will be able to demonstrate knowledge of GIS, digital imaging, web-based map interfaces and spatial data management. Strong IT skills and excellent written and spoken English are essential, as well as excellent organisational, analytical and networking skills and an excellent attention to detail. Also desirable is experience with web programming, for example with demonstrable prior familiarity with Javascript, HTML5, PHP, Ruby, JSON or a subset of these, and/or scripting experience in languages such as Python or R.

Closing date for applications is 12 December. For further information see the full job profile.

Friday, October 28, 2016

North American Silk Road Collections: From Germany to North America

In my previous IDP blog post, I talked about the inscription on the back of the Penn Museum’s fragmentary mural from Turfan. The inscription clearly indicates that it was once a part of the German collection, or to be exact, the Turfan collection originally housed in the Museum of Ethnology (Museum für Völkerkunde). How then did this and other similar pieces ended up in North American collections?

Many archival records of such pieces bear the name of Albert von Le Coq (1860-1930) as the source of the pieces. Albert von Le Coq participated in the second through the fourth German expeditions. Le Coq started his academic career in his forties as a volunteer researcher at the Museum of Ethnology and served as the director of the museum’s department of Indian art from 1923 to 1925. His presence in the archival records indicates that he was partially, if not entirely, responsible for the transfer of these German pieces to North America.

Albert von Le Coq and Mamasit Mirab in front of caves of the 'Eastern Main Group' including 'Cave 163' in Kizil, MIK B 1070 © Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Kunstsammlung Süd-, Südost- und Zentralasien, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

The issue of the dispersion of the German pieces, especially of mural fragments, has been recognized for a long time, and several scholars have already discussed it from the perspectives of both art history and collection history (see works of Lee, Morita, Schlingloff, Ueno, and Zhao in the references). Among them, a recent study by Professor Sonya Lee of the University of Southern California especially details the process through which the pieces in question were brought from Germany to North America.

Around fifty Central Asian mural fragments in the United States are confirmed to have been removed from Germany through their sale in the 1920s. This was a difficult decision for Le Coq, who was planning an exhibition of the Turfan collection in the time of a depreciating German mark and concomitant inflationary pressures. The pieces, selected mainly based on their relative dispensability when compared to those in better conditions remaining in the Museum, were sold through the hands of various dealers. These included Edgar Worch, who was an agent from the firm called Ludwig Glenk in Berlin, and Abel William Bahr, a collector and dealer of Chinese art in North America. (Lee 2015, 11-12)

The same study by Professor Lee also sheds light on the shift of function and meanings of such Central Asian pieces that resulted from these sales and dispersions. Moving into the collections of people with different agendas, some of the German pieces were transformed into art objects serving the goals of their new owners. In the Museum of Ethnology, these Central Asian pieces were exhibited in accord with the museum’s educational agenda for the general public and Le Coq’s intention to tell the narrative of the classical antiquity’s eastern genealogy.

Some of the German pieces ended up in private collections, while many pieces were purchased by North American museums through dealers after the pieces had left Germany. Sixteen pieces of Kizil mural paintings were purchased and later donated to what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum by John Gellatly (1852–1931). As he was primarily known for his collection of American Art, the Kizil pieces were appreciated aesthetically as art works and exhibited without any indication of their Central Asian contexts. (Lee 2015, 5-11; 12-14)

In other cases, the new owners sometimes appreciated Central Asian pieces as expressing a fundamental unity in artistic or religious works across cultures and times. This was the case for the French author, art historian, and statesman, André Malraux (1901-1976). Malraux saw a striking similarity between Buddhist heads from Afghanistan and the sculpted heads of Notre-Dame de Reims of the French Gothic which led him to promote his Afghan Buddhist heads as the 'Gothic-Buddhist' works, embodying the sentiment found in the French Gothic art works (Levine 2012). Interestingly, according to Ernst Waldschmidt, Malraux's pieces possibly originated from the same source that supplied pieces to the Berlin Museum of Ethnology (Waldschmidt 1932, 3; Levine 2012, 637-638).

Cropped from Buddhist visual narratives of cave shrines and reframed as independent pieces, many buddhas, bodhisattvas, and celestial beings with their serene expressions were appreciated in new ways in new contexts.


Levine, Gregory P. A. 2011. “Malraux’s Buddha Heads.” In A companion to Asian Art and Architecture, edited by Rebecca M. Brown and Deborah S. Hutton, 629-646. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Lee, Sonya S. 2015. “Central Asia Coming to the Museum: The Display of Kucha Mural Fragments in Interwar Germany and the United States.” Journal of the History of Collections. Advanced Access published October 17, 2015. Accessed February 4, 2016. doi: 10.1093/jhc/fhv031.

Morita, Miki. 2015. “The Kizil Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum.” The Metropolitan Museum Journal 50: 115-135.

Schlingloff, Dieter. 2011. Albert von Le Coq und die Wandmalereien von Kizil (Addendum zu der Denkschrift: T III MQR, Eine ostturkistanische Klosterbibliothek und ihr Schicksal). Leipzig: private print.

Ueno Aki 上野アキ. 1978. “Kijiru nihonjin dō no hekiga: Ru・Kokku shūshū saiiki hekiga chōsa, 1” キジル日本人洞の壁画: ル・コック収集西域壁画調査 1 [Mural paintings from Japaner Höhle in Kizil: Research on the mural paintings from the Western Regions collected by Le Coq, 1]. Bijutsu kenkyū 美術研究 [Journal of Art Studies] 308 (October):113–20.

― 1980a. “Kijiru dai san ku maya dō hekiga seppō zu - jō: Ru・Kokku shūshū saiiki hekiga chōsa, 2” キジル第三区マヤ洞壁画説法図—上: ル・コック収集西域壁画調査 2 [Mural paintings of preaching scenes in Māyāhöhle, 3. Anlage, first part: Research on the mural paintings from the Western Regions collected by Le Coq, 2]. Bijutsu kenkyū 美術研究 [Journal of Art Studies] 312 (February):48–61.

― 1980b. “Kijiru dai san ku maya dō hekiga seppō zu - jō (zoku): Ru・Kokku shūshū saiiki hekiga chōsa, 2” キジル第三区マヤ洞壁画説法図—上 (続): ル・コック収集西域壁画調査 2 [Mural paintings of preaching scenes in Māyāhöhle, 3. Anlage, first part (sequel): Research on the mural paintings from the Western Regions collected by Le Coq, 2]. Bijutsu kenkyū 美術研究 [Journal of Art Studies] 313 (March):91–97.

Waldschmidt, Ernst. 1932. “Die Stuckplastik der Gandhära-Schule (Zu Einigen Neuerwerbungen des Museums Für Völkerkunde).” Berliner Museen 53 (1):1-9.

Zhao Li 赵莉. 2009. “Kezi’er shiku bufen liushi bihua yuanwei kaozheng yu fuyuan” 克孜尔石窟部分流失壁画原位考证与复原 [Historical retrospect on mural outflow in Kizil Grottoes and restoration in its original site]. Zhongguo wenhua yichan 中国文化遗产 [China Cultural Heritage] 2009(3):88–99.

Note: I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Michelle C. Wang for her insightful suggestion for this blog post.

Friday, September 30, 2016

North American Silk Road Collections: In Search of Provenance

One of my tasks as a research fellow for the Georgetown-IDP project for the North American Silk Road Collections is to locate the pieces’ original locations, including their placement within the archaeological sites. Such information can be derived from various sources, such as stylistic analyses, the materials used, published archaeological reports, and archival records. And sometimes, such provenance information has been inscribed on the pieces by the archaeologist.

Reverse of Object C412. Photographer: Miki Morita

The picture above shows the back of one of the fragmentary murals which I introduced in my last blog post (Penn Museum, C412). The inscription incised directly into the stucco plaster base reads as follows:

III Reise M. Ŏ. M.
Hŏhle I
im Schutt gefunden.

This simple inscription carries much information about this piece’s provenance. First, it is written in German, and we know from colleagues in the German collections that the German expeditions used various abbreviations to denote the provenance. So the first line, 'III Reise' (the third tour), indicates that this fragment was obtained during the third of the four German expeditions held between 1902 and 1914. The third expedition (1905–1907) covered sites around the areas of Kucha and Turfan.

The rest of the inscription gives information on where the fragment was discovered. This part of the inscription is usually straightforward, but sometimes confusing due to abbreviations and errors. In the case of this fragment at the Penn Museum, Professor Adam Smith of the University of Pennsylvania, Stephen Lang of the Penn Museum, and I worked together to reconstruct and translate this inscription, also consulting colleagues at IDP Germany.

The first two letters 'M. Ŏ.' are most probably an abbreviation for 'Ming-Öi', namely 'thousand houses'. This was a general term often used by the locals for Buddhist cave temples. However, it can be confusing. Aurel Stein, for example, used 'Ming-Öi' to refer to the Buddhist cave temples near Shikchin. In the case of some other fragments from the Kizil caves, these characters are followed by 'Q', indicating the transcription used by the Germans for Kizil, namely 'Qyzil'. Accordingly, the third 'M' should indicate a cave temple site visited in the third German expedition. In fact 'M' is most commonly used by the German expeditions to refer to 'Murtuk' (or Murtuq as transcribed by the Germans), and this is also reinforced by the style of the bodhisattva.

Although there are cave temples known as Murtuk, another cave temple site nearby was also included under this designation, namely that of Bezeklik. It was visited during the third German expedition, and 'Höhle I' (Cave 1) of the German numbering of the caves corresponds to Cave 9 in the current numbering. In Altbuddhistische Kultstätten in Chinesisch-Turkistan by Albert Grünwedel, the archaeological report for the third German expedition, we are able to find a record of the rear wall of 'Höhle I', which is filled with rows of praying bodhisattvas (Grünwedel 1912: 231).

Wall painting of adoring bodhisattvas from “Höhle I” (Asian Art Museum, National Museums in Berlin, MIK IB 8492 [lost during the Second World War]; retrieved from the IDP database [Le Coq 1926: 23, pl. 23; Dreyer, Sander, and Weis 2002: 152])

Fortunately, parts of these bodhisattva paintings on the back wall and also on the sides of niches of the corridor remain in-situ in Cave 9 (Höhle I), and they show great similarities to the bodhisattva on the Penn Museum’s piece. Therefore, we concluded that the reconstruction and translation of the inscription should be '3rd expedition, Ming-Öi, Murtuk; Cave 1; Found in the rubble', and this piece most probably originates from Cave 9 (Höhle I) of the Bezeklik caves.

It is confirmed that several museums in North America hold fragments of similar bodhisattva heads. Although I have not seen their inscriptions, the stylistic features and archival information of some of the pieces suggest that they most likely belong to the same Bezeklik cave. While each piece consists of a small bodhisattva’s head, together they would complete the beautiful wall of adorning bodhisattvas.

The question now arises of how pieces from the German state-sponsored expeditions, most of which are now in museum and libraries in Germany (and Russia), found their way to North America. I will explore this in a future blog post.


Dreyer, Caren, Lore Sander, and Friederike Weis. 2002.Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Dokumentation der Verluste, vol. 5. Berlin: Staatliche Museen, Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Gabsch, Toralf. (ed.). 2012. Auf Grünwedels Spuren: Restaurierung und Forschung an zentralasiatischen Wandmalereien. Leipzig: Koehler & Amelang.

Grünwedel, Albert. 1912. Altbuddhistische Kultstätten in Chinesisch-Turkistan; Bericht über archäologische Arbeiten von 1906 bis 1907 bei Kuča, Qarašahr und in der oase Turfan. Berlin: G. Reimer.

Härtel, Herbert, and Marianne Yaldiz. 1982. Along the Ancient Silk Routes: Central Asian Art from the West Berlin State Museums: an exhibition lent by the Museum für Indische Kunst, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Le Coq, Albert von. 1926. Die buddhistische Spätantike in Mittelasien, vol. V Neue Bildwerke. Berlin:Reimer u. Vohsen.

The Kucha Academy and the Asian Art Museum, National Museums in Berlin, are currently also engaged in an an international project to locate the mural fragments from the Kucha region. Their aims include the reconstruction of the murals in selected caves, in which these inscriptions found on the back offer important clues. Thanks to colleagues in Berlin for their help with this work.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cataloguing North American Collections

My name is Miki Morita, and I am a new postdoctoral fellow for a joint project between IDP and Georgetown University in Washington D.C.* In this role I will be collecting data and conducting research on Chinese Central Asian manuscripts, art works, and archaeological artefacts in North American collections for inclusion on IDP online.

Very few North American items have been studied extensively, and even fewer have been incorporated into the IDP database. When I was cataloguing some mural fragments from the Kizil Caves (Baicheng County, Xinjiang) in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I came to notice the existence of less-known Chinese Central Asian works of art and archaeological artefacts, and felt a strong need to create a universal catalogue for scholarly purposes. IDP was, of course, aware of such Chinese Central Asian materials and had already been working with some of North American institutions. I feel very fortunate that I can take part in this project, which allows me to pursue my research interest in Chinese Central Asian pieces in North America.

The most thrilling part of this project is that we do not know what can be found in the North American collections. Some of the pieces have been recognised and studied in the past, such as a major collection of manuscripts in the Library of Congress and Kizil mural paintings at the Smithsonian Institution. On the other hand, there are pieces that have not yet attracted scholarly attention, such as the following mural fragment (C411) from the collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.

Object C411. Courtesy of the Penn Museum.

This fragment, containing busts of three Buddhist deities in the Indo-Iranian style II of Kizil mural paintings, was displayed in one of the galleries, yet was not known and studied by art historians until recently. It turns out to be a part of a lunette of Cave 38 in the Kizil Caves in Xinjiang, and was originally collected during the fourth German expedition led by Albert von le Coq in the early twentieth century.

While the Cave 38 fragment of the Penn Museum is a relatively major piece with three figures, many Chinese Central Asian pieces in the North American collections could be small and fragmentary pieces. For example, the same museum also owns two small mural fragments (C412, C413B) that each depict the head of a Buddhist deity.

Object C412. Courtesy of the Penn Museum

Object C413B. Courtesy of the Penn Museum

Despite their size, such small pieces are part of a limited number of remaining Chinese Central Asian pieces and represent very important pieces in the effort to complete a picture of the history and culture of this region. Moreover, each piece comes with unique provenance information that collectively offers a perspective on the formation of the Chinese Central Asian collections in North America.

Fingers crossed that there remain many more pieces residing within the North American collections! I am very excited to see what new scholarly developments can be made based on the outcome of this cataloguing project.

*Thanks to the Henry Luce Foundation for funding this post, and to the Dunhuang Foundation US for funding the training visit of Dr Morita to IDP at the British Library.