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Dunhuang Art in the Second Half of the Tang Dynasty...

II. The Era of Zhang Yichao --- Late Tang


After the Tibetan occupation of Shazhou, the labouring people among Tibetans and Han Chinese and other nationalities became close neighbours sharing a common fate; this situation was described as: "Different people living in an example of communal amity, as one family."16 However, the brutal rule of the Tibetan masters provoked a number of rebellions in Shazhou. The aristocratic Zhang family seized this opportunity to lead the people's rebellion in the second year of Dazhong Era (848) and conquered Dunhuang and Jinchang, assuming governance of the province. A strong army was built up to do the fighting as well as tilling. The central government of the Tang Dynasty sent a mission to Hexi in the fifth year of Dazhong Era (851), gave recognition to the rebel army and appointed Zhang Yichao as its commander-in-chief.17 In the fourth year of the Xiantong Era (863), Zhang Yichao finally recovered Liangzhou and linked it up with the territory under the control of the imperial capital Chang'an.

By recovering Hexi, Zhang Yichao helped to unite the country and reopened China's traffic with the west and increased agricultural production. In the seventh year of the Xiantong Era (866), Zhang Yichao went to Chang'an to take up a position in the imperial court. His nephew, Zhang Huaishen, stepped into his shoes and did a good job governing Hexi. Within 40 years, the province regained the prosperity of Early Tang.18 However, the ruling family was wrecked by power struggles. In the first year of the Dashun Era (890), Suo Xun, son-in-law of Zhang Yichao, killed the family of Zhang Huaishen. In the first year of the Qianning Era (894), the fourteenth daughter of Zhang Yichao led the army to destroy Suo Xun and installed the grandson of Yichao, Zhang Chengfeng, as the governor of Shazhou. In the second year of the Tianyou Era (905), before the demise of the Tang Dynasty, Zhang Chengfeng founded the "Golden Mountain State of Western Han" giving himself the title of "Baiyi Tianzi" (White-robed Son of Heaven). In 911 this separatist regime surrendered to the Uighur and formed an alliance with them. Zhang Chengfeng died soon after in 919-920, and the ruling power in Dunhuang was transferred to the Cao family.


Cave No. 17, Late Tang

Cave No. 17, Late Tang

The Zhang family were devout believers in Buddhism and held well-known monks in high esteem. The Han monks, Hongbian and Huiyuan, and the Tibetan monk Facheng were all granted special patronage. The family exercised religious authority in addition to political authority. Under such conditions it was inevitable that a large-scale construction of caves took place. Among the 60 odd caves of the Tang Dynasty built after the Dazhong Era, the following caves have precise chronological inscriptions which prove that they were carved out during the period of supremacy of the Zhang family:


Period Constructed by Cave No.
5th year of Dazhong Era (815) Hongbian 16 & 17
The Xiantong Era (860-874) Zhai Farong 85
6th year of the Xiantong Era (865) Zhang Huaishen 156
10th year of the Xiantong Era (869) Suo Yiban 12
12th year of the Xianthong Era (871) Xihe and her mother 107
From the Dashun Era to the Jingfu Era (890-893) Zhang Chengfeng 9
From the Jingfu Era to the Qianning Era (892-898) Reverend He 196
From the Guanghe Era to the Tianyou Era (898-907) Zhang Chengfeng's mother from the Yin family 138
3rd year of the Tianfu Era (903)   192
3rd year of the Tianyou Era (906)   468

Hong Bian, Cave No. 17, Late Tang

Hong Bian, Cave No. 17, Late Tang

On the basis of these inscriptions and the Dunhuang Manuscripts, we may work out the approximate dates of a large number of other caves as well. Even the above inscriptions clearly provide the chronology of the caves built during Zhang Yichao's regime, and provide us with means of researching the chronological connections of these caves and their stylistic evolution.

The caves built during the Zhang Yichao period belong to three main types. The first is the type with the altar in the centre and a rather broad and long corridor. These are passages surrounding the central altar. Stairs lead up to the altar, behind which is a screen. On the altar there is the U-shaped Buddha seat on which is placed Buddha's statue; originally, there used to be railings around the Buddha seat. The back screen is connected with the top of the cave. This is similar to the fan-shaped wall of the palace and monastery architecture. Cave No. 16, built by Hongbian, is the earliest example of this style and one of the large caves of Late Tang.


The second type is with a square deep niche, similar to the square-niche caves of the Tibetan period. They are maximum in number but are generally small-sized caves.

Still another type is the caityagżha style. In design, it is similar to the caitya type caves at Mogao in the early period. The main hall of the cave is rectangular, the front portion has an inverted dipper ceiling while the rear portion has a flat ceiling. A square column stands in the centre of the hall. Square-shaped deep niches are carved into these frontal ceilings of the column. Screen paintings adorn the three sides of the niche with a U-shaped Buddha seat on the base. In fact, this type amounts to transporting the deep niche from the front wall to central column that faces the east. Cave Nos. 9 and 14 are among the few examples of this type.19 The stucco images/dunhuang of the Zhang Yichao Era have basically inherited the themes and styles of the Tibetan period. The images/dunhuang inside the niches are mostly small in size. A niche generally has seven to nine figures. However, the central images/dunhuang in the altar are much larger than those from the Tibetan period. The altar of Cave No. 196 built by Suo Xun features the statue of ßíkyamuni sitting in parya┤ka-bandha on a vajra-throne with the rear screen supporting his back. On the rear screen is painted the Bodhi tree, the two disciples of Buddha, Kí┐yapa and nanda, standing in attendance on either side, while the Bodhisattvas, Avalokite┐vara and Mahísthímaprípta are seated in a calm casual manner with one foot placed on the seat. On the northern side is still extant the statue of the Northern Devaríja. The large and strong figure of the Bodhisattva sitting in a casual manner on the north side is as tall as 2.6 metres and indicates the high level of maturity attained by the Dunhuang stucco technique.

Stucco images/dunhuang of eminent monks begun during the Zhang Yichao Era added a new element to the repertoire of the painted sculptures of Late Tang. In Cave No. 138, the front room was for the monks, inside which we see statues of monks with silvery faces and wearing the ka└aya.

The statue of monk Hongbian in meditation in Cave No.17, built in 850, shows the face of a lay person beaming with radiance and vigour. He wears a special robe. The statue is indeed a masterpiece in the genre of painted sculptures. The northern wall behind it has paintings of two Bodhi trees. A bag and a water bottle are hung on the tree, a maid and a Bhik└unó holding round fans stand on either side of the monk.

The murals of the Zhang Yichao Era have the following content: illustrations of the sútras; tantric paintings, auspicious figures; decorative patterns; portraits of donors and story paintings. However the lion's share of the murals is, as usual, taken by the illustrations of the sútras.


1. The Sutra Illustrations

Besides inheriting the sútras illustrations of the Tibeten period, the late Tang murals have several new themes, as shown below:

Source of Sutra No. of Paintings
Illustrations of Bhai└ajyaguru Sútra 30
Illustrations of Amitíyur-dhyína Sútra 22
Illustrations of the Paradise of Maitreya Sútra 18
Illustrations of Amitíbha Sútra 16
Illustrations of Devatí Sútra 10
Illustrations of the Saddharma-puŞĚaróka Sútra 9
Illustrations of the Bao'en jing 9
Illustrations of the Avatamsaka Sútra 9
Illustrations of the Vajracchedikí Sútra 8
Illustrations of the Vimalakórti-nirde┐a Sútra 5
Illustrations of the SuvarŞaprabhísa-uttamaríja Sútra 4
Illustrations of the La┤kívatíra Sútra 3
Illustrations of the Siyifantianwen jing (Vi┐e└acintíbrahma-paripĄcchí Sútra) 2
Illustrations from Bao fumu Enzhong Jing (The Sútra for Redemption from the gratitude of Parents) 1
Illustrations of the fight between Síriputra and Raudrík└a 3
Illustrations of Míra Vijaya 2
Illustrations from the Surangama Sútra 1
Illustrations from the Ghanavyúha Sútra 1

The themes of the illustrations get increasingly richer until a single cave can accommodate as many as 16-17 different sÁutras. For example, Cave No. 156, completed in 865, was built by Zhang Huaishen to eulogise the achievements of his uncle Zhang Yichao. This is a typical cave from Late Tang where the cave art is dedicated to a personal eulogy of the Hexi rulers. The ceiling of the front hall of this cave is quite damaged; only the illustrations of Míra Vijaya and Bao fumu enzhong jing are extant. On the four slopes of the inverted dipper ceiling in the main hall are illustrations from La┤kívatíra, Saddharma-puŞĚaróka, Maitreya and the Avatamsaka Sútras respectively. On both sides of the curtain on the west wall are illustrations of the exploits of MaÁju┐ró and Samantabhadra. On the south wall are illustrations of the Vajracchedikí Sútra, the Paradise of Amitíbha, Vi┐e└acintíbrahma-paripĄcchí Sútra, Bhai└ajyaguru Sútra and Bao'en jing. On the East wall are the illustrations of the SuvarŞaprabhísa-uttamaríja Sútra and Vimalakórti-nirde┐a Sútra. The plan of Cave No. 9 built by Zhang Chengfeng has special features. Excepting for the eastern slope on the inverted dipper ceiling which has iIlustrations of the Maitreya Sútra, the other three slopes are devoted to illustrations of the Avatamsaka Sútra. On the sides of the eastern slope there are illustrations of MaÁju┐ró and Samantabhadra respectively. On the north, south and west walls are three gigantic sÁutra illustrations of heretic Raudrík└a fighting with the deity, the Vajracchedikí Sútra and Vimalakórti-nirde┐a Sútra respectively.

Fight between Raudraksa and Sariputra (detail), Cave No. 9, Late Tang

Fight between Raudraksa and Sariputra (detail), Cave No. 9, Late Tang

Among the new sÁutra illustrations which appeared during the Late Tang, that of the heretic Raudrík└a fighting the deity typically reflected the characteristics of the times. This illustration was based on Xuda qijingshe pin, the Chapter on Sudatta building a vihíra in juan10 of Xianyu jing (Sútra for the Wise and the Foolish).20 The text is variously called "Zhiyuanyinyouji" (Story of the Jetavana) or "Zhiyuantuji" (Description of the Jetavana) in different versions. The earliest appearance of this theme is in Cave No.10 of the Western Thousand Buddha Caves of the Sui Dynasty which has unfortunately been extensively damaged. At present we can only see traces of the scenes like that of the lion devouring the bull, the vajra pestle smashing the mountain, the storm uprooting the tree and the garu╬a conquering the poisonous níga etc.

The next illustration of this theme dates back to the second year of the Chuigong Era (686) of Early Tang enshrined in Cave No. 335 of the Mogao Grottoes. The painting has constructed the struggle between the two main characters, Síriputra and Raudrík└a, without a complete composition. It was only during the time of Zhang Yichao that large-sized illustrations with a comprehensive story came into being.

Cave Nos. 9 and 196 of Late Tang house the two most comprehensive illustrations of Raudrík└a. The story develops with Síriputra and Sudatta seeking a suitable place for the building of a vihíra, with sequences showing a big elephant carrying gold and gold scattered all over the places, etcetera, painted at the bottom and on the two top corners. At the centre King Prasenajit is seen sitting under a canopy watching the contest of magical powers between Síriputra and Raudrík└a along with his courtiers. The bulk of the space is, of course, devoted to the progression of the contest. The two combatants are ranged on either side --- Síriputra on the left and Raudrík└a on the right. According to the story, Raudrík└a first transformed himself into a tree with luxuriant foliage upon which Síriputra transformed himself into a whirlwind and uprooted it. Raudrík└a then changed himself into the jewel-studded tank of the Pureland Paradise and Síriputra into the six-tusked white elephant who drank up all the water and emptied the tank. When Raudrík└a became a mountain with fountains and trees, Síriputra became a Vajra-warrior, who only had to wave his vajra for the mountain to vanish at once. Raudrík└a then appeared as a ten-headed níga who shook the earth with a thunderstorm while Síriputra's incarnation into a garu╬a tore the níga into pieces and ate it up. When Raudrík└a became a big bull charging towards Síriputra, the latter became a lion and devoured it. Then Raudrík└a became a yakŽa with red eyes and long teeth, spewing flames from his mouth while Síriputra became Vai┐ravaŞa. The yakŽa was frightened and wanted to retreat but he was encircled by fire on all three sides with Síriputra blocking the fourth side which had remained cool. At this point, all the heretics surrendered and asked for pardon. In all the six rounds of the contest described above it was Síriputra who emerged victorious. The two paintings highlight Raudrík└a's panic-stricken expression in contrast to Síriputra's composure. The artists have not painted each and every scene but have selected the most effective sequences to highlight the theme of the illustration. The entire scene is set in motion with the Wind God's opening up his Windbag and the canvas comes to life. A whirlwind blows towards Raudrík└a's side and topples the trees. Then a fire rages along the direction of the wind. A huge tree is uprooted and a golden drum blown away. Raudrík└a's throne is about to fall down although his disciples are trying hard to prop it up. The heretics are driven to the end of their tether by the wind and finally have to surrender one by one and come to Síriputra to be ordained into monkhood. The contest of magical powers culminating in the conversion of the heretics to Buddhahood is decided by a gust of wind, leaving a deep impression on the viewers. The entire sequence is one of the most remarkable achievements of ancient painters.

The illustration of the La┤kívatíra Sútra is based upon the text of Dacheng rulengjia jing (Vim┐atikavijÁíptimítrísiddhi-Sútra).21 Although the Sútra is primarily concerned with philosophy and theology, there are vivid scenes that have been illustrated. At the centre of the mural is the La┤kí Buddha surrounded by 60 odd scenes. For instance, one painting shows a butcher selling meat and a dog is seen gnawing a bone under the butcher's table. This illustrates the observation in the chapter of "duan roushi" (Giving up meat-eating): "Selling the flesh of dog, horse, man, cow for the sake of profit is such a filthy business. How can one eat such things?" There is another picture of a man putting on his turban and robe before a mirror. This is meant to illustrate another observation in the chapter of "ji yiqiefa" (collecting all the dharma): "Dharma is like an enlightened mirror which does not discriminate. It shows various ramifications of the truth according to different conditions of the laity." We find here abstract theology being first explained in a tangible way and later being illustrated by painting to enable the devotees to grasp the theology.

A theme which is rare among the murals of the Tang Dynasty is that of Míra-Vijaya. The illustration of Míra-Vijaya first appeared on the ceiling of the outer room of Cave No. 156 during the sixth year of the Xiantong Era (865). Though the composition is similar to the paintings of the same theme in the earlier periods, the faces and costumes of the characters have undergone a change. The king of Míra looks like an old general in Chinese costume. The females under him resemble the beauties of the Chinese palaces. Three of the females attempt to distract ßíkyamuni by singing and dancing. The latter uses his magical power to transform them into three ugly old women. Wild with anger, the Míra king commands his soldiers to mount an attack on ßíkyamuni but they are unable to break through the lotus protection which Buddha has around himself. Finally, the Míra king is shown without his crown and boots, in a very bad way. The mural tallies perfectly with the description of "pomo bianwen" (The Story of the Destruction of Míra).22


Cave No. 85, Late Tang

Cave No. 85, Late Tang

Sútra illustrations added to their content during Late Tang. For instance, the illustration of the Saddharma-pu┤Ěaróka has as many as ninety-four title inscriptions while the illustration of the Vimalakórti-nirde┐a has more than fifty of them. Both scenes of real life as well as abstract pictures of preaching have been added in large numbers. This often results in a painting becoming overcrowded, unwieldy and disorderly in contrast to the illustrations of the earlier phases of the Tang Dynasty which only highlight the main themes and are distinguished by structural refinement and precision as well as by magnificence and grandeur.


2. Story Paintings

Independent story paintings were discontinued for an interval of 100-odd years when the Mahíyína school was dominant. The Tibetan occupation brought its appearance in the form of screen paintings. Only a few themes such as KalyíŞkíró entering the sea and Prince Sattva feeding himself to the tigress figured on the wall behind the stucco statues inside the niche to fill in unused spaces. During the Zhang Yichao Era, certain caves (for example, Cave No. 85) started to feature screen paintings based on Xianyu jing. Amongst them, some twenty themes have appeared for the first time in Dunhuang murals: for example, the chapters on "Conversation between Sea God Nanda and boat passengers"; "Gangadatta"; "Charity-giving from the magic vase"; "Golden Heaven"; "Santanning", etc.


Avalokitesvara, Cave No. 14, Late Tang

Avalokitesvara, Cave No. 14, Late Tang

The painting of the "Santanning" story depicts a fairy studying dharma in the mountains of VíríŞasó at a time when the city was visited by a drought with many people suffering from hunger. There was an elder named Santanning who provided food for one thousand "mobile fellows" and another one thousand "disabled" people for which he employed five hundred cooks. After some time, the five hundred cooks started grumbling. One day, the fairy told the old man that it was going to rain and he should plant immediately. The old man did so. Soon, the grain ripened and turned into melons. It was later discovered that every melon was filled with grains. The elder's granary was full to the brim. He distributed the surplus among his relatives and the people of the country. Realizing that virtuous deeds beget a generous reward, the five hundred cooks repented and were eventually turned into Arhats by the fairy. The lower portion of this painting has been damaged and a part of the details of the story is preserved in the upper portion.


3. Tantric Paintings

During the second half of theTang Dynasty, tantric paintings appeared in large numbers. Tantric images/dunhuang were introduced during Early Tang, with the appearance of several paintings of the Ekídasamukha (eleven-headed) Avalokite┐vara. This figure was then created in 776 during High Tang in Cave No. 148 in a combination of painting and stucco. Tantric images/dunhuang gradually grew in number during the Tibetan period and assumed prominence after the recovery of Hexi by Zhang Yichao. Cave Nos. 14, 54 & 161 have Tantric images/dunhuang in the Tang style.23 The Avalokite┐vara in Cave No. l61 is a deity of enchantment, unique in its free composition. Cave No. 14 houses hosts of Sahasrabhuja, Sahasranetra Avalokite┐vara, Sahasrabhuja, Sahasrapítra MaÁju┐ró, CintímaŞicakra Avalokite┐vara, Vajra Avalokite┐vara, Ekídasamukha Avalokite┐vara among others. All the figures are accompanied by attendants. The upper portion of the painting features flying figures with a Devaríja and a Bodhisattva in each of the four corners. The lower portion features ferocious mingwnags (fierce spirits who are the messengers and manifestation of Vairocana's wrath against evil spirits). The eleven-headed Avalokite┐vara is sitting in paryaŞka-bandha on the lotus throne: some of the faces show compassion, others anger. There are forty hands to each face, and a compassionate eye in the palm of each hand. The deity holds in his hands a wheel, a ratna, a vajra, an axe, a rope, a knife, a sword and various other weapons. Beneath the lotus throne is Mount Sumeru with the sun and moon hanging above it. Half- way down the mountain slope we see two dragons, and at the foot of the mountain is a lake of blue waves. The expressions of characters are varied; the whole scene creates a mystic feeling. The illustrations of Avalokite┐vara include some eleven-headed Avalokite┐varas, flanked on both sides by various buwangsi (characters who deserve to die).

The Tantric statues in the second half of the Tang Dynasty are endowed with the qualities of a dancer. This is particularly true of the Bodhisattvas who wear towering crowns and garlands all over their bodies. They are in graceful dancing postures even as they fly in the air. This new type of characterization clearly draws its inspiration from India. The Indian influence must have been introduced by the three Indian Tantric Masters who had come to Chang'an to propagate Tantrism during the Kaiyuan Era, and particularly Amoghavajra who had visited the Hexi area.24

4. Auspicious Symbols

Auspicious symbols at Mogao developed further during the Zhang Yichao Era. Paintings of Buddhist historical stories which had emerged earlier now combined with pictures of the auspicious symbols to create a complicated composition. Such compositions are mostly painted on the ceilings of the passages. On the flat top in the passage are painted Buddhist stories such as the water and fire tanks of Nepal, A┐oka building the stúpas, Vai┐ravaŞa churning the ocean, stone statues of Buddha floating on the river during Western Jin, Gao Li finding the Golden Buddha statue during Eastern Jin, and the Buddha image emitting light in the temple on the cliff of the Go┐Ą┤ga Mountain (the last theme was painted only from Late Tang onwards).25 All these stories were combined to form one painting. On the slopes on either side are painted a large number of separate auspicious symbols neatly arranged in rows. The artistic standard of these murals is much inferior as compared with similar paintings of the first half of the Tang.

5. Portraits of the Donors

The portrayal of donors was greatly encouraged during the second half of the Tang Dynasty by the family regimes at Dunhuang and neighbouring areas. In the Hexi region there were the ruling families of Zhang at Nanyang, Song at Guangping, Li at Longxi, Suo at Julu and Cao at Haozhou, related to each other through matrimonial alliances, and forming a hereditary oligarchy with widely spreading tentacles. Their political power ensured further control over religion. As overlords of the monasteries they were empowered to grant licences for the ordainment of monks. Since they provided funds to build caves, they had their own images/dunhuang cast in the caves. The monks also eulogized them and made their portraits; for example the portraits of Zhang Yichao in Cave No. 85 and of Suo Xun in Cave No. 196 illustrate the point.

Portraits of the donors of the period often included three generations of a joint family with all relatives arranged in the same composition. For example, the door of the east wall in Cave No. 156 has a painting of the entire family of Zhang Yichao, his elder brother Zhang Yitan with his family and their parents along with portraits of monks and nuns. In the passage of Cave No. 138 there are the portraits of Zhang Chengfeng and his family. Although the inscriptions have faded, the portraits of the female donors in the main hall are still very distinct. Zhang Chengfeng's wife, with the maiden name Hu, his daughter-in-law, niece, grandson as well as his sisters who had already become nuns were all lined up the same cave. Gone were the days that the portraits of the donors figured in the caves to express their devotion to Buddha. Now they appeared primarily to record their genealogical tree, with the specific purpose of bringing glory to the families. Usually male donors figure on both sides of the passage: they wear a turban and a brown robe and carry a tablet in the waist, in the style of distinguished officers of the imperial court. Female figures are found inside the room; they have their hair tied in a bun and wear skirts and shirts --- in the manner of high society ladies. In comparison, the figures of accompanying maids look humble and inferior, dressed simply and devoid of decorations. The contrast underscores the socio-economic differences between the two groups.

The two paintings, featuring Zhang Yichao and his wife on a journey, which cover the lower portion of both north and south walls and extend up to the lower portion of the east wall in Cave No. 156, are masterpieces of the Tang Dynasty portraiture of donors. There are over a hundred characters in each of the paintings. The scenes are grand with a well-knit structure. The inscription on the south wall reads: "The Governor of Hexi of the rank of Minister of Justice, General Zhang Yichao, on his journey to assume governorship of the territory recovered from Tibetan occupation." The painting starts from west featuring cavalry riders beating a big drum and blowing the horn. There are two columns of soldiers in full armour holding tridents, including warriors of non-Han nationalities. Following them is the army band of ten musicians playing the lute, harp, flute, waist-drum, big drum, etc., a typical Tang Dynasty standing band. There are eight dancers in two rows wearing Chinese and Tibetan costumes respectively. They perform the sleeve dance. Behind them are two cavaliers holding banners showing that the travelling dignitary is a governor. There are two rows of bodyguards holding swords along the bridge. They wear hats with woven designs, short coats, white trousers and black boots and carry swords with a long handle under their arms. The inscription identifies them as "Officials with the silver sword"; they are probably the guards of honour of the Tang. In the centre of the picture we see Zhang Yichao crossing the bridge on a white horse, flourishing a whip. He wears a turban and a brown robe. Placing the main character in such a special scenario as crossing the bridge is not only an indication of his status, but is also intended to highlight the theme.26 Zhang Yichao is followed by a bevy of attendants. The inscriptions also indicate the presence of "army of our own brothers and sons" (Zidibing ) and "commanders" (huiya). In the rear are team hunters and camels and horses carrying articles of daily use.

On the opposite side, on the north wall, is a matching "Picture of Madam Zhang Yichao on her journey"; the inscription titles it as the "Picture of Lady Song of Henei Province in the State of Song". Starting from the west, we have a scene of an acrobatic show performed with long poles --- a typical Tang sport. There is a four-member band: one playing a flute, one clapping bamboo pieces, the third carrying a big drum on his back and the fourth beating it. Another robust acrobat has a long pole standing on his head on which four kids are performing astounding feats. Following them are columns of musicians and dancers. The seven-member band play the flute, lute, waist-drum and other instruments. The four dancers form a square dancing with their sleeves. Behind them there is a white horse drawing a cart. The inscription reads: "Luggage cart of Lady Song". Below these figures we see two riders on horseback. Behind the luggage cart there are three square pavilion-shaped palanquins with an inscription saying: "Palanquins for the young ladies", indicating that they are Lady Song's daughters. Behind them is a white horse drawing a chariot; the inscription simply says "Chariot", it is presumably a standby chariot in Lady Song's entourage. In the centre of the painting appears Lady Song, riding a white horse. She wears a long-sleeved skirt. Her hair is richly decorated with jewels. Behind her comes a group of rider-attendants holding a toilet-case, a fan, a musical instrument, and a mirror. These are the Lady's maids. At the rear, there are hunters with their hounds, camels carrying wine jars and ceremonial horses fitted with halter and saddle. This painting bears evidence to the extravagant entourage of travelling aristocratic ladies of the period.

The paintings of Zhang Yichao and his wife on their travels reflect the real life of historical characters. They have a structure which has clearly inherited the Chinese tradition of tomb murals and have little or no relation to Buddhism in terms of content. However, they are masterpieces of realistic mural paintings eulogizing heroic characters.

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