Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist art on China’s Silk Road

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Cave Temples of DunhuangFull-sized replicas of China’s Cave Temples of Dunhuang on display in a traveling exhibit.

One of the most famous art museums in the United States has recreated one of China’s most important heritage sites, the Cave Temples of Dunhuang.

They were once a popular rest stop, marketplace and religious shrine along the fabled Silk Road. But today, more than 1,700 kilometers away from Beijing, they are not the easiest place to visit.

The collection of Buddhist cave sites in the Dunhuang area includes the Mogao Caves, which are the best known of the grottoes.

Now, thanks to a long-term project between China’s Dunhuang Academy and The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), full-sized, hand-painted replicas of three Mogao Caves are now being used in a special exhibit.

“The Getty Conversation Institute works around the world to improve the practice of our conservation and we always do that in partnership,” Tim Whalen, GCI director said. “In this particular case with the cave temples exhibition, we’re doing that with the Dunhaung Academy and we’ve been working with them for more than 25 years,”

Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddist art on China’s Silk Road

Full-sized replicas of China’s Cave Temples of Dunhuang in a traveling art exhibit in Los Angeles.

Dunhuang Academy Professor Fan Jinshi, more widely known as the “daughter of Dunhuang”, has been working with a team of artists to restore and preserve the 1,600-year-old Mogao Grottoes since 1963.

“I don’t think people understand the enormous difficulties [the conservationists] face when they try and make these copies,” explained Fan. “They could do a crude copy and perhaps the ordinary person wouldn’t be able to notice the difference, but for the artisans, the first thing they do is get a very good understanding of the paintings.”

As May Lee shows us, now these full-sized replicas of the caves are on display for the whole world to see.