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Thesis

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Aurel Stein and wall painting fragments from Xinjiang in the British Museum
Dr. Clarissa von Spee
Curator-Chinese and Central Asian Collections
Department of Asia, The British Museum
This paper will introduce wall painting fragments from Xinjiang province in the collection of the British Museum. These finds by Aurel Stein were mostly made on his Second Central Asian Expedition in the years, 1906-08. They include a group of wall painting fragments that originally formed a wall painting frieze at Shorchuk in the district of Yanqi. Aurel Stein recovered it from the lower part of the eastern walls of a shrine chamber at a site, to which he gave the local name, Ming-oi (“Thousand Dwellings”). The site lies on a ridge to the north of the village, some sixty kilometers south of Karashahr.
The paintings which probably date from the 8th to 9th centuries, originally formed a continuous panel along the foot of the outer wall for about three and a half metres in the eastern half of the chamber. The series of fragments feature scenes of monks involved in various activities such as receiving instruction, monks with their pupils and seated monks inside caves writing on tablets. Despite the colourfulness of this series of panels, they are easily outshone by two larger panels recovered from the same shrine, which are now in the collection of the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. By comparison, the Stein panels, occupied a relatively modest position low on the rear wall of the rear chamber of the shrine. Although muted in both colouring and subject matter, the Stein paintings are, however, important. The paper will attempt to reconstruct the original setting of the panels and discuss the paintings in their entirety referring some motifs and landscape features to the art of the Xinjiang Kizil Thousand Buddha caves.