Not currently on display at the V&A

The Stein Collection

Banner
7th century to 10th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This silk textile is a Buddhist ritual banner. Banners like this were used by pious donors as offerings to honour the Buddha. They were carried aloft hooked on a staff and they also fluttered from the tops of stupa (domed memorial shrines). A painted wooden board across the bottom of the banner prevented the streamers becoming tangled and helped to keep it in place.

This banner was recovered from Cave 17 of the Mogao Grottoes. This shrine site is one of China's great Buddhist pilgrimage complexes and is situated near the oasis town of Dunhuang. It is part of an area of Central Asia we now call the Silk Road. This series of overland trade routes crossed Asia from China to Europe. The Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. While silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism travelled east, entering China from India.

The explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) brought this banner back from Central Asia. The V&A has around 600 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Stein at the beginning of the 20th century.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Pattern and plain woven silk, wood and paint
Brief Description
Silk banner, from Dunhuang, 7th to 10th century
Physical Description
Banner with head, suspension loop, three body panels, two arms, three legs and weighting board intact. Head has a border of monochrome plain weave red silk with a painted Chinese character in black on one edge and a suspension loop of monochrome plain weave white silk. Head infill is also of monochrome plain weave red silk, with the remians of a painted flower. First body panel consists of two pieces of monochrome plain weave blue silk stitched together with yellow silk thread. Second body panel is of monochrome plain weave white silk. Third body panel is of monochrome plain weave red silk. Both arms are of monochrome patterned weave blue silk showing an interlocking lozenge and quatrefoil design. The three legs are of monochrome plain weave blue silk, joined with a wooden weighting board showing a painted floral and scroll design in red outlined in black.



Weave structures:

1. Suspension loop

Warp: silk, single, undyed, 64 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, undyed, 13 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

2. Head border

Warp: silk, single, red, 39 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, red, 25 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

3. Infill with painting

Warp: silk, single, undyed, 43 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, undyed, 16 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

4. Panel

Warp: silk, single, dark blue, 42 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, dark blue, 22 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

5. Panel

Warp: silk, single, grayish blue, 24 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, grayish blue, 14 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

6. Panel

Warp: silk, single, white, 44 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, white, 49 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

7. Panel

Warp: silk, single, red, 45 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, red, 21 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

8. Bottom streamer

Warp: silk, single, dark blue, 43 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, dark blue, 41 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

9. Streamer

Warp: silk, single, dark blue, 43 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, dark blue, 50 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 4-2 patterning weave for pattern on 1/1 plain weave for foundation

10. Streamer

Warp: silk, single, dark blue, 50 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, dark blue, 50 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, dark blue, 22 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 4-2 patterning weave for pattern on 1/1 plain weave for foundation
Dimensions
  • Length: 131cm
  • Width: 34cm
Styles
Marks and Inscriptions
(In handwritten form but method not clear; chinese; border of banner head)
Credit line
Stein Textile Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India
Historical context
Dunhuang is at the eastern end of the southern Silk Road, in present-day Gansu Province. It lies between the western reaches of China and the Tarim Basin. When China began to expand into Central Asia during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), Dunhuang served as a base for military operations and trade. In the succeeding centuries, Buddhist shrines were established southeast of Dunhuang in a series of man-made caves called Qianfodong, "Caves of the Thousand Buddhas" (today also known as the Mogao Grottoes). Here spectacular cave temples were cut out of the cliffs, beginning in the fourth century AD. Over a period of several centuries, communities of Buddhist monks filled the caves with splendid sculpture and wall paintings. These included colossal Buddha statues, painted clay sculptures of deities, elaborate murals of Buddhist legends, and thousands of tiny painted Buddha images; all of which gave the site its name, Qianfodong. Buddhist cave temples had first been established in at Bamiyan (Afghanistan) and Gandhara (formerly in India, now Pakistan). At Qianfodong, Stein found paintings of graceful figures in the Gandharan style among landscapes and buildings that were distinctly Chinese; a fusion of Indian and Chinese art, which he had noted elsewhere along the Silk Road.



In 1900, a Daoist monk named Wang Yuanlu discovered a secret cave at Qianfodung, which contained thousands of documents and paintings. Stein purchased a significant amount of this material from Wang during his visit to the Dunhuang in 1907. Among the many religious works were Buddhist, Jewish, Nestorian, Daoist and Confucian texts; all of which dated from approximately 400 to 1000 A.D. Numerous languages were represented as well, including Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Hebrew. Stein also acquired many textile pieces. Most of these were silk, for Dunhuang lay on the main trade route between silk-growing regions of China and Central Asia. Elaborate embroideries depicted Buddhist legends and processions of donors. Patterned silks included Chinese and Sassanian (Persian) designs. From China came floral and geometric patterns, combined with figures of animals and birds. Sassanian motifs included pairs of confronted ducks, lions, and other beasts, combined with medallions and quatrefoils. Stein also found undecorated silks used as processional banners and valances for decorating bases of statues. The cave was sealed soon after 1000 A.D., apparently to protect the contents from invading armies. The V&A holds, on loan, a large number of textiles from Dunhuang, including plain and pattern woven silks in many colours, painted Buddhist banners and canopies, and wrappers for Buddhist texts.
Production
Found in Cave 17 of the Mogao Grottoes (Caves of the Thousand Buddhas).
Subject depicted
Association
Summary
This silk textile is a Buddhist ritual banner. Banners like this were used by pious donors as offerings to honour the Buddha. They were carried aloft hooked on a staff and they also fluttered from the tops of stupa (domed memorial shrines). A painted wooden board across the bottom of the banner prevented the streamers becoming tangled and helped to keep it in place.



This banner was recovered from Cave 17 of the Mogao Grottoes. This shrine site is one of China's great Buddhist pilgrimage complexes and is situated near the oasis town of Dunhuang. It is part of an area of Central Asia we now call the Silk Road. This series of overland trade routes crossed Asia from China to Europe. The Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. While silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism travelled east, entering China from India.



The explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) brought this banner back from Central Asia. The V&A has around 600 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Stein at the beginning of the 20th century.
Bibliographic References
  • Stein, Aurel, Serindia: Detailed Report of Exploration in Central Asia and Westernmost China Carried Out and Described Under the Orders of H.M Indian Government , 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921), vol. II, p.989. Vol. IV, pl.CXXI.
  • Whitfield, Susan. The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith. London: The British Library, 2004, p. 279, pl. 237.
  • Zhao Feng, ed. Textiles from Dunhuang in UK Collections. Shanghai: Donghua University Press, 2007. pp. 298/299.
Other Number
Ch.00342 - Stein number
Collection
Accession Number
LOAN:STEIN.619

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record createdFebruary 9, 2004
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