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The Court Ladies of Dunhuang Painting by Jenny Sanders

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Jenny Sanders

Jenny Sanders

Dunhuang, in Gansu Province, was a major gateway to the west, an important commercial hub along the Asian-European caravan route known as The Silk Road, and an important religious center for many religions, particularly Buddhism. When easier and less-dangerous modes of east-west travel opened, Dunhuang faded into relative obscurity. Hundreds of caves and grottoes had been built in the area over the years. The most skilled Buddhist artists and artisans were employed to create mural paintings on the cave walls of the Thousand Buddhas. Many of the murals in Dunhuang were painted by the great masters of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a peak period for Chinese art and Buddhism.This treasure trove of Buddhist art located in this remote and formidable area in northwest China had lain forgotten, when in 1940, Zhang Daquian (1899-1983), the maestro of traditional Chinese ink brush painting found his way to Dunhuang. He began copying murals at the Magao and Yulin Caves and grottoes. The motif of the court ladies is a recurring theme. Zhang embraced the style he found painted on the walls of the caves in the healthy and vigorous beauty of the female Buddhist believers and fairies depicted in the murals. Zhang’s court ladies no longer appeared pale and sickly as they were portrayed during the Ming and Quan dynasties when female curves and frail, anemic gestures were highlighted. The figures here took on a dimension of grace and dignity. Many of the ladies depicted in the murals were members of powerful and noble families who had the financial resources to sponsor the construction of the caves and the skilled Buddhist artists. These lovely ladies can give the viewer a small idea of the charm portrayed in the murals of Dunhuang.

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The Court Ladies of Dunhuang by Jenny Sanders
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