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January 6, 2014

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Home » City specials » Hangzhou

Replicas of rarely seen Buddhist cave art at museum

It is all very much like the real Dunhuang Grottoes: Buddha sculptures sit in caves, elaborate paintings cover the walls and the ceiling, and tiles with lotus in relief pave the floor. Only the location is the Zhejiang Art Museum in Hangzhou, not the real caves in Dunhuang city in Gansu Province in northwestern China.

Seven replica caves, 59 replica wall paintings, 10 replica sculptures, 10 real tiles and 10 real Buddha manuscripts are included in the exhibition at the museum.

There is a very good reason for the replicas: Most everything in the real caves cannot be moved and touched, and flash photography can’t be used.

Much of the actual artwork reproduced at the museum is rarely if ever seen by the public.

“All the replica paintings in the replica caves were copied by artists from Dunhuang Academy of Grottoes, and it took about five years for more than 10 artists to build a replica cave,” said Luo Huaqing, deputy director of the academy.

Dunhuang Grottoes, including the most famous, the Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and other caves in the Dunhuang area, contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art and span 1,000 years. It is an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road.

Fan Jinshi, director of Dunhuang Academy of Grottoes, cited a small example to show the magnificence of the Dunhuang treasures: “In the manuscripts placed in the caves, we found not only Chinese characters, but also Tibetan, Khotan script, Old Turkic script, Uygur script, Sanskrit, Sogdian script and Hebrew.”

The construction of the Mogao Grottoes began in the 4th century, and initially it served as a place of meditation for hermit monks, developing to serve the monasteries and later as a place of worship and pilgrimage for the public.

The work of copying the Mogao Grottoes started in the 1970s. In the dim caves, artists, in order to avoid destroying relics, used mirrors to reflect a bit sunshine on the walls to copy the paintings. Today the work still goes on.

Even if you go to the Mogao Grottoes in person, there is very little chance of seeing the real Buddha manuscripts because they are all under lock in the Exhibition Center of the Dunhuang Grottoes.

Running to March 16, the Dunhuang Art Exhibition is organized by the Dunhuang Academy of Grottoes and Zhejiang Art Museum, and all the exhibits are from the Protection and Exhibition Center of Dunhang Grottoes attached to the academy.

Since almost half of the collections of the center has been moved to Hangzhou, the center now is closed (in Gansu Province, winter is the slack season for tourism).

The highlight of the exhibition is the seven replica caves, which are of the same size as the original ones.

They are No. 158, No. 275, No. 249, No. 220, No. 17, and No. 3 of the Mogao Grottoes, as well as No. 29 of the Yulin Grottoes, which are “seldom open in Dunhuang,” said Feng Zhiguo, researcher from the Protection and Exhibition Center of Dunhuang Grottoes.

In order to safeguard the treasures, only a little over 30 of the caves among the total 812 Mogao Grottoes are open to the public, while visitors can visit only 10 caves at a time.

More than 10,000 people visited the Hangzhou exhibition on its first day on December 28.

The museum also got a “facelift” to add to the atmosphere.

Now welcoming visitors is an antique archway with characters for Mogao Grottoes, and upon entering the lobby, people are immersed in a brown-crimson decor with the walls and dome covered with printed wall paintings, and the floor in lotus brick prints.

In the middle of the lobby is the signature sculpture of Mogao Grottoes, the Reclining Buddha of No. 158 Cave, impressing visitors with its 13.6-meter length and 5-meter height, which is large even though it is an 80 percent scale replica of the real one.

The exhibition is on the second floor, and 10 professional docents, also from Dunhuang Academy of Grottoes, will guide tourists and interpret the historic art.

The wall paintings in the exhibition are copied by Chang Shuhong, Shi Weixiang, Chang Shana and Duanwenjie — all masters in the study of Dunhuang art.

Most of the exhibited paintings are about Buddha because these elaborately painted caves served as aids to meditation, as visual representations of the quest for enlightenment, as mnemonic devices, and as teaching tools to inform those illiterate about Buddhist beliefs and stories.

Also supporting the main exhibition are two sub-exhibitions. One on the first floor is the Exhibition of Dunhuang Rock Painting showcasing 68 replicas of wall paintings as well as several sculptures, and the other on the third floor is the Exhibition of Zhang Daqian’s Copies of Dunhuang Wall Paintings.

Most of the 60 pieces of the copies from master Zhang, renowned as the first professional Chinese artist who went to Dunhuang to copy the paintings, are only partially complete. Some just have an outline, while some are half-colored.

“Zhang was in Dunhuang for three years and copied 276 paintings, and those semi-done works help us to see the process of his copying,” the director of the Zhejiang Art Museum, Ma Fenghui, said.

The works of Zhang are borrowed from the Sichuan Museum, and this is the first time they have been shown to the public.

Date: Through March 16 (closed on Mondays)

Address: 138 Nanshan Rd

Tel: (0571) 8707-8700

Tip: It is suggested to take at least two hours or more to tour the exhibition.



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