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Found at Khocho
Period of Tang control, 9th-10th century
Painting on silk
34.5 x 27.5 cm
Acquisition #MIK III 6166

Image courtesy of the Museum für Indische Kunst (copyright reserved)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preussischer Kulturbesitz

This painting was found in Khocho (Kaochang), an oasis site to the east of the Tien Shan mountain range near Turfan in Chinese Turkestan. Created during the period of Tang Chinese control over much of Central Asia, it is not surprising to note many elements of Chinese painting in this work. In particular, facial features are rendered in red and then over-lined in black ink; this method was used by Chinese artists at least as early as the Han era, and was utilized on the Tang-era copy of the Six Dynasties-era Admonitions handscroll in the collection of the British Museum.

Another aspect of this work, however, speaks of different influences. As early as the sixth century, painters were utilizing styles of Central Asian and Near Eastern origin in the various northern courts of the Six Dynasties era. During the Sui period, a Khotanese artist who used the Chinese name Wei-chi Po-chi-na came to hold an prominent position as court painter. We do not know in what style he painted, but it is possible his work was similar to that created by his descendent, Wei-chi I-seng, who was active in Chang-an as a painter a century later. Wei-chi I-seng specialized in Buddhist frescoes, and using a thick impasto over which he applied an unvarying outline that was likened to a coiled iron wire. This "iron wire" technique, which we see utilized in this painting from Khocho, became the standard method of Buddhist icon painting in China, and was later taken up by both Korean and Japanese painters who modeled their Buddhist compositions on Chinese prototypes.