Fragment of a Wall Painting from the Front of the Socle of a Sculpture of Buddha Sakyamuni’s Nirvana



9th century (?)


Bezeklik, Turfan


Wall painting


Overall dimensions 45×372 cm


State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Inv. TU–577 a,b,c,d

Additional Research Metadata


The cave in which this painting was discovered was first described by Albert Grünwedel (Cave 19 according to his numbering), and his text forms the basis for this description. By the back wall of the cave, on a socle or pedestal 160 cm wide and 90 cm high, was a scene of the parinirvāṇ a (complete nirvana) of Buddha Śākyamuni. The sculpture of the reclining Buddha, severely damaged, was originally very large. Above it in a lunette was a painting showing the mourners required by the iconography, only partially preserved, and recorded by Grünwedel in an outline sketch (Grünwedel 1912, p.211, fig.561). Grünwedel then described the row of figures on the front of the socle: a lion, a goose, a phoenix, a mākara (sea monster), a reclining male figure, then a very large figure of Vajrapāṇi 129 cm wide and 54 cm high, fallen on one knee and brandishing a vajra, then a peacock and a large bird of unidentified species. It is possible that Oldenburg did not remove all parts of the painting. Running through the whole composition is the sorrow felt by Buddha’s pupils and followers of his teachings, who lament his departure. Gathered by the bed of Śākyamuni to join in the common woe and to give praise one last time to the Teacher, they come from many different peoples and include living beasts of all kinds. It is natural to suppose that the painting on the socle was intended to be read in the context of the composition above. Although it differs from all other known decoration on pedestals and sarcophagi, the scene has close analogies in the Buddhist art of Japan, for a gathering of birds and beasts before Buddha features in numerous Japanese images of the 12th to 14th centuries (The Spread of Buddhist Art in Asia 1998, pls113–18), which were based on Chinese iconography, most probably of the Tang Dynasty (618–907). The style of the painting of the socle wall and the way the mourners are depicted recalls Chinese painting and wall paintings from the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang. The extremely expressive figure of Vajrapāṇi was copied either from a painting by the great Wu Daozi himself (8th century) or from works by artists of his circle.


From the first Russian Turkestan Expedition of Sergey Oldenburg 1909–10


Pchelin, Rudova 2008



“Fragment of a Wall Painting from the Front of the Socle of a Sculpture of Buddha Sakyamuni’s Nirvana,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed July 2, 2020,