The art of Dunhuang covers more than ten major genres, such as architecture, stucco sculpture, wall paintings, silk paintings, calligraphy, woodblock printing, embroidery, literature, music and dance, and popular entertainment.
The Mogao Caves
The Mogao Caves, also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes or Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, form a system of 492 temples 25 km southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China. The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes and, along with Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes, are one of the three famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.
The cave no. 17 discovered by Wang Yuanlu came to be known as the Library Cave. It is sited off the entrance leading to cave no.16 and was originally used as a memorial cave for a local monk Hongbian on his death in 862. The Library Cave was walled off sometime early in the 11th century. A number of theories have been proposed as the reason for sealing the caves. Stein first proposed that the cave had become a waste repository for venerable, damaged and used manuscripts and hallowed paraphernalia and then sealed perhaps when the place came under threat. Following this interpretation some suggested that the handwritten manuscripts of the Tripitaka became obsolete when printing became widespread, the older manuscripts were therefore stored away.
the Library Cave
There are around 2,400 surviving clay sculptures at Mogao. These were first constructed on a wooden frame, padded with reed, then modelled in clay stucco (灰泥), and finished with paint. The giant statues however have a stone core. The Buddha is generally shown as the central statue, often attended by boddhisattvas (菩萨), heavenly kings, devas, and apsaras (飞天女神), along with yaksas (夜叉) and other mythical creatures.
Buddhist art has its origins in India. Mogao sculptors improvised where the rock surface did not work well under their chisels. They placed clay statues in front of the cave walls, carved relief murals（浮雕壁画） as backdrops, and painted the sidewalls and ceilings with art decors. The largest statue is 34.5 meters high and the smallest a mere 2 centimeters high.
The murals in the caves date from a period of over a thousand years, from the 5th to the 14th century, and many earlier ones were repainted at later points within the period. The murals are extensive, covering an area of 490,000 square feet (46,000 square metres). The most fully painted caves have paintings all over the walls and ceilings, with geometrical or plant decoration filling the spaces not taken by figurative images, which are above all of the Buddha.
Sculpture is also brightly painted. The murals are valued for the scale and richness of content as well as their artistry. Buddhist subjects are most common; however, some have traditional mythical subjects and portraits of patrons. These murals document the changing styles of Buddhist art in China for nearly a thousand years. The artistry of the murals reached its apogee (达到顶峰) during the Tang period, and the quality of the work dropped after the tenth century.