|The walls of the cave temples were plastered with sand, hemp fiber, and mud then painted. Interior wall of Cave 275, Northern Liang Dynasty (420-429 CE) (Dunhuang Academy).|
|The cave temples of Mogao at Dunhuang, Western China, are carved into the cliff face along the Daquan River and are surrounded by austere desert (Sun Zhijun/Getty Museum).|
After several decades of research and conservation work carried out by the Dunhuang Academy in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute and others, we now have a greater understanding of how the natural setting and local climate -- from the wind and the desert sand to the water sources nearby -- influenced the design of the cave temples and their paintings.
Not only is this knowledge critical to developing strategies for preserving and managing the grottoes today, it also prompts art and architectural historians to study the history of the cave temples in connection with their broader ecological environment. What does an earth-centered approach to the art of Dunhuang look like?
|Greenery abounds in this landscape illustrating the Maitreya Sutra. Detail, north wall, Yulin Cave 25. Late eighth-early ninth century (Dunhuang Academy).|