Painting of a Nestorian Christian figure

The Painting of a Nestorian Christian figure or Fragment of a Christian figure, Nestorian painting of Jesus Christ, is a late 9th-century[1] Tang dynasty fragmentary silk painting of a haloed man with crosses on his head and chest who has been interpreted as a Christian figure, associated with the Church of the East in China. It was discovered by the Hungarian-born British archaeologist Aurel Stein at the Library Cave (cave 17) of the Mogao Caves in 1908. The painting is in the British Museum in London.

Painting of a Nestorian Christian figure
Chinese: 藏經洞基督像
T'ang dynasty Nestorian image of Jesus Christ (Original version).jpg
Year9th century
TypeInk and colours on silk
Dimensions88 cm × 55 cm (35 in × 22 in)
LocationBritish Museum, London


The figure is represented in a three-quarter view in a manner very similar to some of the paintings of Bodhisattvas, even to the gesture of the right hand. The outer circle of the nimbus has flame-like decoration. He has a fairly thick moustache and a slight beard, both in red. He is wearing a silk stole of red with a yellow lining, over a garment that has faded to a greenish colour very similar to that of the background. The sleeves of the garment end in ruffs and golden bracelets adorn the wrists. A cross, each arm that ends in extensions of beads, appears both in the headdress of the figure and pendant of the necklace that he is wearing, as well as on the top of the long staff that he is holding in the left hand.


The cross-on-lotus symbol carved on the Nestorian Stele, which can also be seen in the headdress worn by the figure in this painting.

According to Meicun Lin (a professor of the School of Archeology and Museology at Peking University) and Szonja Buslig (a lecturer of Eötvös Loránd University), they believe that the style of this painting deliberately imitates the reliefs at Taq-i Bustan, a site with a series of large rock reliefs from the era of Sasanian Empire. For example, both have nimbi, wear similar necklaces, and even basic positions are very similar. It is speculated that this painting was made based on the icon of Christ that the Persian missionary Alopen carried to Chang'an, the capital of the Tang Empire.[note 1][2]

The figure with the right hand held open and the thumb touching the middle finger, which is a variant of the Vitarka Mudrā, the gesture of discussion and transmission of the teachings, it is generally seen in the Hindu and Buddhist iconography. At first glance, the figure resembles a Bodhisattva, but the western features of the face, together with the red mustache and beard, which are quite different from the green, curling moustaches of Bodhisattvas, begin to hint at a different type of holy figure. That the figure is Christian is evident from the cross on the lotus in the headdress, a symbol can also be seen on the Nestorian Stele, the cross pattern on the necklace, the cross pendant and the staff of a processional cross. The headdress decorated with wings is known from the Kushano-Sasanian art and symbolises sovereignty, the curls at the shoulders remind us of the images of Gandhara Buddha. The narrow flame border of the nimbus is found throughout the Buddhist iconography of Central Asia. The background is scattered with small flowers which may serve to enhance the sanctity, and therefore the devotion (bhakti).[3]

Image of ChristEdit

According to the German professor Hans-Joachim Klimkeit [de] and Swiss scholar Christoph Baumer, “the figure represents Jesus Christ or a saint”.[4][5][6] Tōru Haneda [ja], a Japanese historian and professor of Kyoto University, argues that “the unearthed in Tunhwang must be an image of Christ”.[2] P. Y. Saeki, the Japanese scholar of religion, also considers the painting to be an icon of Jesus.[7]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The inscription on the Nestorian Stele mentions that Alopen carried with him the Christian scriptures and icons.


  1. ^ "Collection online, museum number 1919,0101,0.48". Retrieved 21 July 2018. Two minor features suggest that this painting dates from the end of the ninth century
  2. ^ a b Lin, Meicun; Buslig, Szonja (31 January 2007). "西域における景教芸術の発見:敦煌蔵経洞のキリスト画像" [Discovery of the Ching-chiao Christian Art in Western Regions: Image of Christ from the Library Cave at Tunhwang]. (in Japanese). Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  3. ^ Parry, Ken (1996). "Images in the Church of the East: The Evidence from Central Asia and China" (PDF). Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. 78 (3): 160. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  4. ^ Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim (1995). 達·伽馬以前中亞和東亞的基督敎 [Christianity in Central and Eastern Asia before Vasco da Gama]. A Series of the Cultures of the World (in Chinese). 31. Translated by Lin, Wushu. Taipei: Shu Hsin Press. p. 31. ISBN 957-531-421-2.
  5. ^ Baumer, Christoph (2016). The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity (New Edition). London: I.B. Tauris. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-78453-683-1.
  6. ^ Tubach, Jürgen (1999). "Die nestorianische Kirche in China" [The Nestorian Church in China]. Nubica et Æthiopica (in German). Warsaw: Zaś Pan. p. 66.
  7. ^ Kung, Tien Min (1960). 唐朝基督教之研究 [Christianity in the T‘ang Dynasty] (PDF) (in Chinese). Hong Kong: The Council on Christian Literature for Overseas Chinese. p. 7 (PDF page). 佐伯博士主張此像乃景敎的耶穌像

External linksEdit