Mogao Cave 420 (Sui Dynasty)

This article is provided by the Dunhuang Academy. All text and images published are authorized by the Dunhuang Academy.

Mogao Cave 420 interior

Built around 600A.D., during the middle of the Sui dynasty, Mogao Cave 420 features an inverted-funnel shaped ceiling and a square plane. There is a niche each carved on the south, west and north walls. This is a well-designed cave with exquisite sculptures and murals, which are unrivaled by other caves built during the same period. Caves built in the Sui dynasty are mainly located between the southern and northern sides of Northern Dynasties caves. This cave serves as a benchmark for Sui dynasty’s artistic achievements in Chinese history.

Many statues in Dunhuang caves built during the Sui dynasty became incomplete or lost their original appearance after being renovated in succeeding dynasties. Only a small number of statues have been kept in good condition. Mogao Cave 420 is one of these caves with the best preserved statues. All statues remain intact in this cave, and there are no marks of change from succeeding dynasties. Apart from minor defects and faded colors, these statues’ original appearances have been largely preserved and thus serve as an important source for understanding the artistic and architectural styles of the Tang dynasty.


A double-layered niche was carved on the west (main) wall inside Cave 420. This was a new form emerged in the Sui dynasty. The double-layer makes the space in the niche appear wider and the statues could be arranged in an orderly manner. There are three statues inside the main west wall niche, one Buddha, his two disciples, and four Bodhisattvas. Inside each of the the north and south wall niches are a Buddha and two Bodhisattvas.

The three Buddhas on the three walls represent “Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future”. The broad-shouldered Sakyamuni Buddha in the main niche wears a kasaya, and sits cross-legged on a lotus throne. With a smile on his face and slightly downturned eyes, the Buddha appeared solemn and kind. The fingers of his right hand are lifted to form the Abhaya mudra, which symbolizes peace and happiness to all living beings. His left hand is stretched out with the palm facing upwards to form the Varada mudra for all living beings. The simple and dignified style of the statue shows the Buddha’s inner wisdom and peace. On the sides of the Buddha are his two disciples, Ananda and Kasyapa. Only Kasyapa and Ananda, the old and the young disciple were carved to represent all of Buddha’s ten principal disciples.

The face of Ananda in this cave has turned dark, but his round face still shows a child-like innocence. The original red kasaya has also turned black, but its eye-catching green edges give a youthful vigor. The pious-looking Ananda stands respectfully beside the Buddha, holding a lotus flower in one hand and deftly raising the other. Standing on the other side of the Buddha is his oldest disciple Kasyapa, an ascetic monk who went around seeking alms and preaching Buddhist sacred texts. Based on these descriptions, sculptors portrayed an image of sorrow on his face. His face is wrinkled, with knitted brows and a bare chest to show his ribs, which appear more prominent under his bright-colored kasaya.

Visitors may feel the Buddha is solemn and dignified, but find the Bodhisattvas very approachable. Bodhisattvas are endowed with maternal compassion and affection in China, as they are responsible for saving and enlightening all living beings. Buddhists reached a very high realm, one without desire and form, when they begin to practice the Bodhisattva precepts. Thus, beards were usually painted on the faces of Bodhisattvas in Dunhuang caves to indicate that they are not female, but they usually wear women’s dresses to represent compassion. The four Bodhisattvas next to the two disciples appear gentle and quiet, with clean faces and prominent eyebrow ridges. The Bodhisattvas wear a necklace of precious stones on their naked upper body, a bracelet and armlet on their arms, and a brocade skirt down their waist, with celestial clothes wrapping their arms and body. They are either holding a jade vase, a willow branch, or a lotus bud. Their eyebrow ridges, nose bridge and cheekbones are prominent and match with their well-proportioned figures, broad shoulders and slender waists. They do not appear stiff, but give off healthy and youthful vibes. The Bodhisattva statues near Ananda has a face that’s smooth and glossy. Known as an “ageless Bodhisattva”, the color on her face has not faded or changed in 1,400 years, which is rare in all Mogao Caves.

The statues in Cave 420 were circularly carved and almost completely detached from the wall, except for the back. The wall is flat to further highlight the importance of statues in the niche. The seated Buddhas in Cave 420 still feature the short, round and thick figure of Buddha statues from the Northern Zhou and early Sui dynasties. However, the sculptors had begun to pay attention to the manifestation of body curves, with thinner and body-hugging kasaya and more intricate detailing.

The attendant  Bodhisattvas feature broad shoulders and chests, tight waists, slightly protruding lower abdomen, wide hips, and straightened feet. The garment’s hemline fits closely against the skin, with curves that appear a bit stiff and heavy at the top. Their faces are round and squarish, with a protruding forehead and short chin. The front and side of the face were sculpted at a slight angle. Their facial features are well-defined, with special attention given to their contour lines. Their eyebrow bones and nose bridge are quite prominent. Their bulging eyes were carved carefully with folds to show a downward gaze. Their nasal bridges are straight, philtrums are deep and their lips are clearly defined.

It’s noteworthy that traces of paint can be seen on the faces of some statues in Cave 420, including the attendant Bodhisattva at the south of the main niche’s inner layer. Her hair at the temples and eyebrows were painted with malachite green pigment, her lips dotted with red ocher, her cheeks, eyelids, nose bridge, and lower jaw lightly with vermilion to highlight the skin texture and undulation of muscles. Similar to the shading technique of murals in the same cave, the same technique was applied on painted faces, which was an innovative method in the Sui dynasty. The results appeared more vibrant and vivid than earlier practice of face powder application.

Looking at the attires of each statue in the cave, the seated Buddhas in the three niches each wear a double-collared kasaya and crossed-collar Sankaksika, with a knotted strap at the chest. The robes are thin and body-hugging. The body structure of the statues is visible even though they are dressed in several layers of clothing. The patterns of the attire are quite simple, and the cascading collar of clothes during the Northern Zhou dynasty to the early Sui dynasty were no longer used. An attempt was made to create shallow folds. The attire still appeared somewhat stiff and straight, but some changes were already made to fit the depth and density of muscles. The draped garment fits the legs and hangs loosely on the pedestal of the seat, which was one of the characteristics of sitting Buddhas of the Sui dynasty. The kasaya worn by the sitting Buddha features a brown-red color, while the lattice pattern and edges of the kasaya were painted with mineral green and malachite. The Sankaksika was also painted with round or rhombus patterns featuring a strong contrast of colors that were different from the simple styles in the Northern dynasties. The gold details in the neckline, cuffs, draping of the kasaya, as well as edges of the lattice pattern were particularly eye-catching. The gold foil has peeled off, but the statue’s majestic appearance remained.

The techniques used to paint the patterns and intricate gold details on Bodhisattvas’ and disciples’ clothes were the same. The attendant Bodhisattvas wear a peach-shaped three-bead crown with the upper part of their body exposed, a round-shaped necklace with precious stones, as well as armlets and bracelets. These jewelry may appear simple, but were gilded to showcase its splendor. The green-colored shawl was used to wrap around the shoulders and arms to form two arcs and fit tightly against the lower abdomen and hips. The Bodhisattvas wear a two-layered garment, with a knotted belt that drapes in front of the belly. The robe is quite short and does not reach the ankles, with the hemline fitted against the body to show the outline of the two legs. The clothing patterns are mainly shown on the sides of the legs.

Among attendant Bodhisattvas in this cave, those standing on both sides of the outer niche on the west wall are the most exquisite. Their garments were painted with a circular bead pattern to symbolize hunting. The statues of the two disciples in the shrine on the west wall wear an oblique-collared Sankaksika as the inner garment and kasaya with double collars as the outer. The attire of the standing Bodhisattvas has a simple style compared to those of the Buddhas and other Bodhisattvas, but the edges of the garment were gilded. The four-color checkered kasaya worn by Disciple Kasyapa is also particularly striking.

In summary, the statues in Cave 420 are consistent with basic characteristics from the Northern Zhou dynasty, such as big heads, broad and round bodies and short lower bodies. The body proportion has been slightly elongated to reflect the ordinary human size. The posture of each statue still appears a bit stiff without too many dynamic elements, and the surface of the block statue is squarish and straight, only with softer lines. The statues in Mogao Cave 282 from the late Sui dynasty (613 A.D.) and statues from early Tang dynasty have slender figures, softer curves and more dynamic features. This is testament that the artistic form of sculptures in Cave 420 is distinctive from the early and late Sui dynasty. The statues in Cave 420 also feature thin and body-hugging clothing, simple patterns and necklace with precious stones, which highlight body curves. It was a new style not found in earlier times, but was created only with new elements acquired from the Central Plains region that focused on more realistic expressions. This emphasis on realism is evident in the depiction of different statues, distinguishing the divinity of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from the humanism of the disciples. The sculptures in Mogao Grottoes had improved in terms of techniques to portray a more realistic model and statue character. Statues built in the Tang dynasty have long been regarded as the peak of sculpture art in the Mogao Grottoes and were renowned for their high realism in portrayal of inner and outer beauty. The statues in Cave 420 were considered to be at the beginning of this peak.


With the exception of paintings of Votive Bodhisattvas and donors at the lower part of all four walls that were repainted during the Song dynasty, other murals in Cave 420 have retained their originality from the Sui dynasty. The murals in the cave are intricate and well-designed. The west wall was covered with murals in a three-section layout inherited from the Northern dynasties, where the upper section is music and dance performances in the Heavenly Palace, and the middle Sutra transformations.

The upper music and dance performances in Heavenly Palace occupy a small proportion of mural spaces, and was extended from the periphery of the four slopes of the ceiling. The Heavenly Palace is a simplified form passed down from the Northern Zhou dynasty, painted with an uneven terrace with square tiles, and the bottom part with vertical angles and tassels and draped valance adornments. Apsaras holding offerings or musical instruments fly freely above the cave in circular motions.

The lower part is about 1 meter high and was renovated during the Song dynasty. An offering vessel is in the middle of the west wall, with Bodhisattvas on both sides extending all the way to the south and north walls. Donor portraits occupy both sides of the entry on the east wall. The original murals were repainted, but based on historical practices in caves during the Northern Zhou dynasty and Cave 305 during the early Sui dynasty, donors and Bodhisattvas were most likely from the original murals, and were likely accompanied by Yaksha, or protective deity, and valance in the shape of triangles.

The middle section of each wall is the best position to view the murals. The three niches in the middle of the three walls are the center of attention, while the murals inside and outside them complement the statues inside. The murals on the four walls vary slightly, which will be discussed in the order of west, south, north and east.

West Wall Mural

The niche on the west wall is relatively large, almost occupying the entire middle section, leaving only a long and narrow space on each side. Manjusri Bodhisattva and layman Vimalakirti from the Buddhist text Vimalakirti Sutra were painted at the top on each side. This was a new theme emerged in the Sui dynasty and one of the major classics of Mahayana Buddhism from early India.

Above the niche was painted with a Lotus Sutra transformation, which was also a new theme emerged in the Mogao Grottoes during the Sui dynasty. The Lotus Sutra was another Mahayana classic. Sengrui, a disciple of Kumarajiva, said “Lotus Sutra is a secret treasure of all Buddhas and essence of all sutras”.

The Tiantai sect, one of the earliest Buddhist schools of thought established by monk Zhiyi in the Sui dynasty, also adopted the Lotus Sutra as its theoretical foundation. Zhiyi had close ties with Yang Guang, Emperor Yang of Sui. The Tiantai sect established by Zhiyi was said to be an attempt in bridging the differences in theory and learning styles between Buddhism in the north and south since the Southern and Northern dynasties, and establishing a unified political rule during the Sui dynasty.

According to the Lotus Sutra, Buddha emerged to enlighten all living beings with his wisdom and insight, so that they can attain Buddhahood. In the “Skillful Means” and “Parable of the Burning House” chapters of the Lotus Sutra, the theory of attaining Buddhahood was narrated repeatedly, and common images of a sheep cart, deer cart and white ox cart were used to explain the theory of “uniting three vehicles into one”. This theory affirmed that everyone can attain the highest form of enlightenment and Buddhahood, which increased the appealing of Buddhism.

Many metaphors were used in the Lotus Sutra to promote simple ways to obtain Buddhahood and the boundless power of Buddhism. For example, the “Skillful Means” chapter stated that one can attain Buddhahood as long as one “attends sermons and offers alms, observe commandments and endure contempt, worship Buddhist relics, build pagodas and Buddhist statues, recite the sutra and chant the name of Buddha, or even accumulate sand to build a Buddhist pagoda. In the “Universal Gate of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva” chapter, it states that Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva can transform into different forms anytime and anywhere to save all living beings from disaster or distress, and help them attain Buddhahood as long as they chant the name of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva.

The details of the Lotus Sutra transformation in Cave 420 were arranged in an counter-clock wise direction, with “Preface”, second chapter “Skillful Means”, third chapter “Parable of the Burning House” and 25th chapter “Universal Gate of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva” painted in the order of the north, west, south and east ceiling slopes. Except for the murals on chapters “Emergence of a Jeweled Stupa” and “Universal Gate”, all other paintings were new themes emerging in the Sui dynasty, with that of the “Preface” and “Skillful Means” only seen in Cave 420. While the painting on each slope was based on a specific chapter, there is no clear divisions. For example, the Asura King who attended the Lotus Sutra assembly in the “Preface” on the north slope was painted on the border between the north and west slopes. Some details of the “Preface” were interspersed in the “Skillful Means” chapter on the west slope, while some scenes of the “Thirty-three transformations of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva” in the “Universal Gate” chapter on the east slope was extended to the east side of the north slope. These five chapters in the illustrations of the Lotus Sutra in Cave 420 were themes that appeared most often in Tang dynasty Lotus Sutra transformations. The paintings in Cave 420 thus indicate that the basic teachings of the Lotus Sutra were already gradually established during the Sui dynasty. The Lotus Sutra transformation in Cave 420 revealed the most details among existing murals from the Sui dynasty.

The painting style of the Lotus Sutra illustration in Cave 420 can be described as detailed and exquisite. In the paintings, there are towering pavilions, winding corridors, connected halls, undulating mountains, lush trees, flowing rivers, and various figures, birds and animals. In terms of painting techniques, every detail was meticulously depicted without any distortion or simplification, whether it was the floor tiles, the lotus flowers, or a leaf. Freehand brush strokes were used in places such as the background of the four slopes, Griddhakuta Mountain in the “Preface”, and mountains in the “Universal Gate” chapter. The caravan camels depicted in the “Universal Gate” chapter were only painted with several brush strokes.

The coloring techniques were rigorous. The background is brownish black now, but should have been painted with a red lead pigment. Green was mainly used for roofs, floor, mountain forests, and clothing, which would form a striking contrast with the background. Buddhas in all the murals were gilded, including places on their faces, hands and feet, to highlight their status and enhance their majesty. Such an exquisite style had never been seen in Dunhuang murals from the Northern dynasties, but certainly became more prevalent in the Sui dynasty. It was termed as “dense painting style”, in contrast with the “sparse” style of painting used elsewhere.

In Famous Paintings of Past Dynasties, Zhang Yanyuan stated that “paintings during the Middle Ages were detailed, exquisite and gorgeous, similar to the works of Zhan and Zheng”. Zhan refers to Zhan Ziqian and Zheng refers to Zheng Fashi, both of whom lived through the Northern Zhou dynasty to the Sui dynasty. Thus, the exquisite and gorgeous painting style was common in China’s Central Plains region. Therefore, most scholars believed that the detailed and exquisite murals appearing in Dunhuang during the Sui dynasty were influenced by the painting styles of the Central Plains.

The decorative motifs in Cave 420 can be classified into four categories based their positions: niche decorations, caisson patterns, clothing patterns, and Buddha pedestal motifs. The caisson and clothing patterns were different from those in previous dynasties. The Buddha pedestal motifs had never been seen in works of previous dynasties either and were an exception in Chinese Buddhist art.

The most elaborate and complex motifs in the cave are the niche lintel and nimbus of the Buddha, which are closely related. The patterns on the niche lintel can only be seen in the inner layer of the west wall niche, which are similar to the nimbus pattern behind the Buddha inside the niche. It is evident that the motifs were to complement each other. The niche lintel has two layers. The inner layer was painted with lotus flowers and honeysuckle, whereby musicians were playing on the lotus flowers. The outer layer was painted with a flame pattern, with each occupying half of the niche lintel and separated by a bead motif in the middle. The niche lintel was painted in green, black, white and red, while the inner layer looks like a piece of floral fabric from afar.

The color scheme of the sitting Buddha’s nimbus is similar to that of the lintel. In the middle of the Buddha head nimbus is a large lotus flower. The inner layer of the nimbus has a circle of Buddha’s Nirmanakayas, and the periphery was decorated with a circle of scattered lotus flowers dancing in the wind. The outer layer of the nimbus was also painted with a flame pattern similar to that of the lintel. The flame pattern was gilded to make it look blazing. Similar forms of patterns at the niche lintel and nimbus emerged as early as the Northern dynasties, but motifs used during the Sui dynasty had unique features.

The Buddha nimbus in the niches on the south and north walls features layers of flame patterns, similar to the motifs on the west wall, but without Buddha’s Nirmanakaya. While the niche lintels on the south and north walls were not painted, the edges around the opening of the niche was painted with a circle of bead patterns and single-leaf honeysuckle vine patterns as decoration. It is noteworthy that bead patterns along the niche edges on the south and north walls were also found in the opening of the niche’s outer layer and Buddha’s nimbus. Such a pattern of white beads painted on a long blue border was quite popular during the Sui dynasty and often appeared at the boundaries along the niche and ceiling of the cave or between walls, but these patterns were not seen in caves during early Sui dynasty, such as in Cave 302 and 305. Thus, simple decorations like those in the niches on the south and north walls in the cave were not as glorious as the traditional patterns in the niche lintel on the west wall, but showed a new form of decorative motif influenced by traditional Chinese art.

Caisson Ceiling

At the center of the caisson pattern is a circular upside-down double-layered large lotus flower, with its surrounding painted green. The center of the flower was painted with a three-rabbit pattern, and the edges of the brackets and colored strips had scattered rosette patterns. In the triangular corners of the inner layer are flying Apsaras, with three of them in the form of a naked boy. The outer layer was painted with a feathered being. The border of the caisson pattern was painted with beaded motifs, honeysuckles and lions. There are multiple layers of valance and tassels beyond the border, and the edges were designed to represent the fluttering of a canopy. The three-rabbit pattern in the lotus flower had a total of only three ears, in an attempt to reprent the three running rabbits in a circular pattern of chasing one another. The entire caisson is centered around the three rabbits inside the lotus flower, with the large circular lotus as the wheel. Combined with the flying Apsaras and feathered beings at the four corners of the bracket, the artists skillfully incorporated the acts of flying, galloping and rotating to represent a rotating canopy-like caisson.

The square caisson in Cave 420 is similar to the caisson in Cave 305 from early Sui dynasty. It should be noted that the square caisson  had almost disappeared after the Tang dynasty, and was replaced by caisson with lotus flowers, similar to that in Cave 390 from the late Sui dynasty and early Tang dynasty. The three-rabbit pattern in the center of the lotus flower only shows three ears also seemed to be adopting a side view perspective. The three ears are connected to form a closed triangle, which serves as the central axis for circular chsing, creating a dynamic effect on the canopy-like caisson. This three-rabbit pattern is common in caisson centers in caves built during the Sui dynasty, but was never seen earlier in Dunhuang or the Central Plains region. Scholars pointed out that this pattern originated from the Persian Sassanian Empire (226-642 A.D.), which is today’s Iran. Consequently, the three-rabbit pattern may have originated from Western Asia before it was used in Dunhuang.

Another new pattern was a rosette and lion motif interconnected in a ring surrounding the caisson. It is difficult to identify the original appearance due to the small scale and faded colors. However, it appears that each interlocking ring has a swirl-shaped honeysuckle, with a lion cub in different postures in the center. Scholars asserted that the circular pattern of rosette painted with birds or beasts originated in Rome, before it was found in ancient Gandhara kingdom in India. This pattern emerged in China in the late 5th century. The pattern of interlocking rings, rosette and lion features a circle with two layers, as there is another ring outside the rosette motif. The lion cub in the rosette pattern is in different postures, which may be related to its protective role. These lion cubs had more vivid and realistic appearances than traditional Chinese forms of lion painting. Lions are ancient symbols in the Persian Sassanian Empire, and were often showcased in artworks. The vivid and lively lion cubs in Cave 420 are different from the traditional art forms of China, but similar to realistic representations in Persia. Thus, it is likely that there were influences of Persian art in the paintings.

Clothes Styles

The main clothing patterns in this cave include checkerboard pattern, argyle pattern and circular bead pattern. The most eye-catching motif is the circular bead pattern that appear on the garments of attendant Bodhisattvas on both sides in the niche on the west wall and the sermon painting on the east wall. The two Bodhisattva statues wear a brocade skirt featuring a beaded pattern and hunting motifs in a circular ring. This hunting and beaded pattern is a Persian style. Its emergence was closely related with the development of cultural exchanges between China and the West Region after the Sui dynasty opened up the Silk Road. Scholars believed that the circular bead motif was popular in the Persian Sassanian Empire. Even though the color of the circular bead patterns on the skirts of Bodhisattvas in Cave 420 had turned brownish black, it was well-preserved enough to identify two patterns – winged horse of heaven and hunting motifs, both inside circular beads.

The winged horses of heaven with hind legs kicking backwards was painted in the circular bead pattern, which was closely related with the traditions of Persia and Central Asia. In the circular-shaped hunting motif, a knight dressed in Hu clothing was painted riding on an elephant, where the elephant was chased and pounced by a wild beast, and the knight holds a cudgel and turned back to fight against the beast. Similar patterns were seen on gold and silver plates from the Persian Sassanian Empire in the 4th century. Figures dressed as aristocrats were riding horses to hunt for the beast, which was described by some scholars as a “Painting of the King’s Hunting”. There was a tradition of using war elephants in Persia even though riding an elephant was never seen in such paintings. Thus, the hunting patterns in the circular bead motifs in Cave 420 might be related to Persia’s “Painting of King’s Hunting”.

The aforementioned two patterns appeared on Bodhisattvas in Cave 420 originated from Persia and Central Asia. These were new artistic elements that spread to Dunhuang via the Silk Road. Apart from the two patterns, other circular bead patterns found in the Mogao Grottoes also included lotus flowers and pairs of horses. Many of them were used as decorative motifs on the edges of niches or murals, and were presumed to have been painted in the Sui dynasty.

The circular bead pattern used on clothing found in Cave 420 also appeared in cave murals in Central Asia and Xinjiang on the Silk Road, but with uncertain dates. As previously mentioned, there are many existing fabrics with circular bead patterns in China, most of which were unearthed from the ancient tombs of the Sui and Tang dynasties at the Astana cemetery of Turpan in Xinjiang. They also included brocade with winged horse and hunting motifs. Scholars believe that fabrics with Persian motifs were made in mainland China for export to the Western Regions during the time. The circular bead patterns of Persian Sassanian Empire were adopted after its growing popularity in the Western Regions.

There were records of Persian brocade used in China as early as the Southern and Northern dynasties. According to the History of Southern Dynasties, the state of Hua in the Western Regions had sent Persian brocade as tributes to the ruler of Liang. There were also records of Persia offering brocade robes during the Sui dynasty. According to the History of Sui Dynasty, “Persia presented beautiful golden brocade robes. The emperor ordered craftsman He Chou to make a robe copying the style of Persian robes. The emperor was pleased when the robe was completed and presented to him”. This was the earliest record of China’s reproduction of Persian brocade. The records did not specify and describe the Persian brocade, but it can be imagined based on the motifs found inside Cave 420.

The Sui dynasty only lasted for 38 years, but it represented a turning point in China’s history from division to unification of the Southern and Northern dynasties. It further ushered in the prosperity and progress of the Tang dynasty that lasted nearly three centuries. The Sui dynasty was also a key period in the development of Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, of which over 80 caves were carved during the period, a number unrivalled by any other dynasties.

Mogao Cave 420 was one of these well-organized and beautifully carved caves. Judging from its artistic style, it was likely carved around 600A.D., a period of great social and economic development as well as close ties between Dunhuang, the Central Plains and the Western Regions. As discussed earlier, it is evident that the design of this cave incorporated traditional elements of the Northern dynasties in the Mogao Grottoes and new elements from the Central Plains and Western Regions.

The overall design of the cave blended styles from the Central Plains, including the Buddhist culture. More importantly, the two illustrations of Mahayana Buddhism in the cave, illustrations of the Lotus Sutra and Vimalakirti Sutra, were new mural themes in Mogao duringt he time. All these were originated from the Central Plains. Especially the Lotus Sutra transformation, its exquisite and gorgeous style were not seen in Dunhuang Caves built during the Northern dynasties, but was consistent with the “detailed, delicate and gorgeous” style from the Central Plains, such as Zhan Ziqian. According to historical records, the illustration of Lotus Sutra began with the works of Zhan Ziqian in the Sui dynasty.

In terms of the Western artistic elements in the cave, apart from the painting of Nirvana in the Lotus Sutra illustration on the cave ceiling, decorative patterns were mainly of Western Region styles, including the circular bead pattern on the attires of the Bodhisattvas, the three-rabbit pattern at the caisson center, and the interlocking rings, honeysuckle and lion motif on the edges of the cave ceiling. These exotic decorative patterns are not main themes of the cave, but provide striking visual effects that add to the grandeur. The unification of Sui dynasty had brought the artworks of the Central Plains and Western Regions to Dunhuang, blended their Chinese and Western elements, and laid the foundation for the development of Dunhuang art during the later Tang dynasty.