Uighurian Princes and Princesses
Uighurian Princes and Princesses
Left: Wall painting, 62.4 x 59.5 cm. Bezeklik, Temple 9, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6876a)
Right: Wall painting, 66.0 x 57.0 cm. Bezeklik, Temple 9, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6876b)
Left: The two narrow faces of the east wall of Temple 9 at
Bezeklik bore pictures of princes on each side. In this
well-preserved painting are portraits of three princes
of East Asian aspect, who seem to be striding forward
on a carpet. All three are dressed alike, in differently
patterned, long red robes with a round neckline. It is
difficult to make out how these are fastened; perhaps
they are sewn together in the middle. Over the right
leg, the side facing the spectator, the robes fall open
to reveal high, dark boots. The princes hold their
hands, hidden by fairly wide sleeves, above the belt,
which was evidently made of plaited leather studded
with metal disks. Some of its thongs hang down without any apparent function, while to other thongs or
cords are attached a dagger, flint-pouch, awl, knotted
kerchief, and other objects; these were perhaps meant
not so much for everyday use as to denote the rank
of their bearer.
The darker-skinned prince on the right precedes the other two by a couple of paces and appears to be of higher rank. All three wear high tiaras, which are fastened by ribbons under the chin. In contrast to the common people the aristocrats wore their center-parted hair in long tresses, hanging down the back and cut square at the ends. The flower that each holds seems to have been added at a later date. Anne-Marie von Gabain believes that this flower must have had a special significance: she quotes a Uighurian text translated from the Chinese, which in its many prayers for the dead expressly mentions "those who hold the flowers."
In our branch of Buddhism we venture the hypothesis that the lotus bud in the hands of worshipers denotes the hope of rebirth as an Aupapaduka, i.e., in Amitabha's paradise, while a different kind of flower symbolizes some other desirable reincarnation. This would explain why the Buddha does not carry a flower, as he has already attained perfection, and why his immediate followers are not distinguished by the flower symbol either — the presence of the Enlightened One assures his pupils of the best possible prospects of nirvana — As the long-stemmed flower without hands to hold it occurs quite often in pictures, we cannot speak of an oversight on the part of the painter; such a contravention of the laws of statics must have had its significance. We believe we have found a clue in a picture from Tun-huang dating from 971 : the accompanying text identifies the mem- bers of a group of worshipers as the deceased parents and several family members. The father bears a stemless flower on his hands, the mother too, though her hands are covered. The other persons, whom we may suppose to be still alive, as their death is not mentioned, have no flower. Hence our postulation that the bereaved showed their reverence for a dead relative by commissioning a portrait of him with the flower, to show that they wished him a joyous rebirth. Living persons, however, were painted without a flower. But when after the completion of a picture the person died, this symbolic flower was then added, painted in across the breast. (Gabain 1973b, text vol., pp. 165f)
There is a cartouche at the head of each prince. Only that of the foremost bears a complete inscription, in which von Le Coq has identified the name of a well-known Uighurian family. His reading is: "The Tutuq Bugra [from the house of] Sali." This family is reported to have flourished in Khocho for a long time.
Right: Two Uighurian princesses with East Asian features walk solemnly toward the left over a wave-patterned carpet with borders on each side. They are wearing wide, sand-colored robes without a pronounced waistline. The V-shaped neckline is edged by a collar embroidered with red spiral lines. The fastening in the middle and the seams on the upper sleeves and the knee-line of the garments are marked with red-and-white braid, which may — as von Gabain believes — indicate the width of the material, here 35 centimeters (Gabain 1973b, p. 124). The red crosshatched ma- terial of the undergarment can be seen at the neck and wrists. The elaborate coiffure, which marks its owners as members of a privileged class, shows two wings of hair at each side fastened with ornamental pins; a magnificent crown is worn on top. From the hair at the back, a rust-red sash hangs nearly to the floor and is tied in a decorative bow at hip level. Like the princes of No. 108 (Image on the left), each woman has been given a flower. According to von Le Coq, the inscription on the cartouche preserved next to the right-hand figure reads: 'This is the picture of Her Highness Princess Joy."
Uighurian Prince Uighurian Prince
Left: Wall painting, 57 x 37.5 cm. Bezeklik, Temple 19, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 8381)
Right: Painting on ramie, 142x52 cm. Khocho, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 4524)
Left: This picture of a prince was part of the painting on
the pedestal of the cult image, which had, according
to Grunwedel (1912, p. 271), the sermon of Benares
depicted on its front side.
The prince stands before a door or window opening, between red curtains which have been tied back on either side. He wears a long, belted robe; his head is crowned with a high tiara fastened under the chin with a red band. Unlike the princes of No. 108 he has a thick beard. Von Gabain's research indicates that young men generally went clean-shaven; only on attaining full manhood did they wear a thin mustache, slightly drooping at the sides of the mouth (Gabain 1973b, p. 117). A beard, though less common, could also be worn, as this portrait shows, framing the cheeks rather than covering them completely. Prince Alp Arslan ("brave lion"), whose name and tide can be read on the cartouche located below the elbow, holds the stem of a flower in his hands, unlike the figures of Nos. 108 and 109; if von Gabain's hypothesis is correct, all those represented with flowers were deceased at the time.
Right: As seen already in several examples, portrayals of princes and their families are an extremely interesting feature of the art of Central Asia. In the form of wall paintings they were placed in locations that would catch the eye, on the entrance ways or passages in the cave temples or on the pedestals of statues. Where the hangings with portraits were displayed cannot be accurately deduced from where they were found.
The finest painting on cloth in the Berlin collection is this large banner, possibly a votive offering, with the portrayal of a Uighurian prince on both sides. Like all votive banners it consists of three parts: the long, narrow, rectangular banner itself, the triangular segment at the top, which here depicts a seated Buddha, and rectangular strips of material at the bottom with a wooden stick to weigh it down. The subject has an aristocratic bearing and is getting on in years. Unlike men of lesser standing, he wears his long white hair parted in the middle and falling in individual tresses squared off at the ends. On his head is a three-pronged cap, held by a strap under the chin; a shoulder-length veil hangs down behind. As well as an attractively curled mustache he has a beard covering his chin and framing his cheeks.
The prince's fine robe, patterned with a large floral design, is modeled on the typical dress of the country. It is a long-sleeved, round-necked garment reaching to the feet. There is a belt fastened in front, with rectangular decorative pieces containing a slit from which to hang straps with objects of daily use, such as sheaths for chopsticks and reed pen, flint-pouch, awl, and amulets. A slit in the side of the garment reveals a black knee-length boot. In his hands the prince holds a stem with several blossoms, perhaps intended to win him a joyous reincarnation.
The Uighurian inscriptions are very difficult to de- cipher. On the side with the prince facing left a line of writing can be seen at the level of his hat on the right. At bottom left we can read: "For the soul of my father (or: our father) [Tangri?] m Xan Totoq." The other side, with the prince looking to the right, bears a similar inscription. M This(?) (is) for the [soul of my father] [//] tym (or: Tangrim?) X[an] T[otoq]." This reading, for which we are indebted to Dr. Peter Zieme, would if correct confirm von Gabain's hypothesis that flowers held in the hands or laid across the arms indicate that the bearers have died.
Two Female Donors
Two Female Donors
Painting on silk, 9.5 x 25 cm. Toyok, 8th -9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6341)
This modest fragment of a large silk painting gives an
idea of the sumptuousness and artistic quality of the
original work. On the right are the half-figure and the
head of two Chinese noblewomen of the T'ang dynasty, portrayed in three-quarter profile. They probably formed part of a group of donors represented
below a Buddha or bodhisattva to the left. The two
women have their hair up and their cheeks and eyelids
powdered a fashionable pink. The woman on the left,
wearing a red shawl over a violet dress, has her hands
joined in front of her breast. Both women originally
stood or knelt before and to the right of a multicolored
lotus pedestal. Parts of its leaves have survived, painted
in the traditional range of colors, blue, red, green, and
violet, and the lower end of a white shawl hangs down
Donors and disciples of Buddha
Group of Donors Disciples of Buddha
Left: Wall painting, 150.5 x 208 cm. Kizil, Cave of the Sixteen Sword-Bearers, 600-650
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 8199b)
Right: Kizil mural depicting disciples of Buddha.
Left: No other relics of the culture of Central Asia tell us
so much about the various origins of its inhabitants
in the second half of the first millennium A.D. as the portraits of donors in the murals. Here are four rep-
resentatives of the race under which Kucha's art flourished. They are Tocharian knights, of undeniably
Indo-European origin. With their short, reddish brown
hair parted in the center, their light-colored eyes, and
what looks like Iranian apparel, they form a marked
contrast to the Uighurian princes of No. 108. Over
their tight-fitting, Parthian-style trousers they wear
splendid lapelled coats in the fashion of Sasanian nobles, differing only in color and ornamentation. Each
of the four has a dagger and a sword with an unusually
long hilt hanging from his belt, which is made of metal
disks. Their faces are badly damaged.
Portrayals of donors were usually to be found in the caves on the walls of the side passages to the left and right of the niche for the cult image. The Cave of the Sixteen Sword-Bearers takes its name from the four donors depicted on each wall of the left- and right-hand passages.
Right: Kizil mural depicting disciples of Buddha.