Miran Wall Painting of Buddha

                                                 Buddha with Six Disciples 

 3rd-4th century A.D.

                Painting size 3 3-1/2 x 1 10-1/2



During his second expedition in 1907, moving along the southern rim of Takla Makan desert, Aurel Stein started excavations in an old Tibetan fort at Miran. About a mile west-north west of the ruined fort, Stein found a cluster of five ruined mounds. Curious appearance of one of the mounds with a well preserved dome, had Stein’s attention. 

This ruin turned out to be a Stupa with coloured Fresco panels all around, now in damaged condition. This particular fresco panel was found by Stein, lying on the ground and saved miraculously from destruction. Stein describes this Fresco panel in great detail as “ Fresco panel (incomplete) fallen in front of another Fresco panel. On left, is upper half of a Buddha, right hand raised as in abhaya-mudra, but with thumb bent inwards touching second joint of third finger (eighth on hand). 

Dr. Venis suggests that this may symbolize Buddha expounding ‘the eight-fold way’ or the eight Päramitas. Left hand low, probably gathering up drapery. Behind him are six disciples, in two rows of three. one above the other ; the nearest to him in upper row holding a yak-tail fan in raised right hand ; to right again of disciples, appears naked right arm, which grasps handful of white bud, or flowers, apparently in act of throwing. As background to arm appears part of dark conical (?) mass of black, covered with red and white flowers and poppy-like leaves in greenish grey ; and on extreme left is similar mass of black on which are scattered well-drawn leaves in greyish blue ; both are intended to represent trees. Background elsewhere vermilion, turning to pale buff between Buddha and disciples (paint probably lost); along top runs a black band.

Buddha wears dark purple-brown robe, covering both shoulders ; outlined black and lined with buff, which shows at turnover on left shoulder. Head of Western, slightly Semitic type, with high straight forehead and somewhat domed top; large well-opened straight-set eyes, partially covered by eyelids ; nose aquiline; short upper lip ; small curved mouth ; softly rounded cheeks and chin ; ears are elongated and pierced, and there is small moustache and rippling lock before ear ; eyebrows nearly meet over nose ; left strongly arched ; hair in curves along forehead, receding at temples; usnisa (Halo like representation of a goddes) partly lost ; all hair black.

Flesh pale buff, flat on face, but with grey shading on arm ; contour lines rapidly drawn with broad brush in light red, and emphasized with lines of reddish-brown wherever a true outline is in question or strong outline of feature is required ; elsewhere (along sides of nose, line of jaw against neck and of forehead under hair, round ball of chin and for wrinkles in neck) the light red only is used, giving effect of rough shading but producing required effect at a slight distance. Eyes look slightly downwards under eyelid, and are painted like those of angels’ with white on eyeballs, brown on irises, and black for pupils and iris outline; behind head is circular halo of light buff bordered with red.

The disciples are of a strongly Western type, with decidedly hooked noses and fuller and more prominent eyes. Their heads are of a shorter and rounder type, and the method of painting is different from that of the Buddha. The colouring, however, is much stronger and cruder than that of the latter. All heads are shaven and are seen three fourth way to left; fig. on left in top row carries white cauri (A fan made from horse’s hairs) in right hand uplifted behind Buddha, and wears bright green robe lined with white, leaving right shoulder bare ; next wears bright red robe lined with white, covering both shoulders ; figure on left in lower row, light buff robe with folds indicated in red (right shoulder broken off); and figure at other end of row dark red robe covering both shoulders ; a hand of the latter appears at edge of fresco from inside of breast of robe, fingers clasping edge ; this figure also has two transverse wrinkles in forehead and heavy double-curved eyebrows meeting over nose ; ears are all pierced. The monotony of the heads is diversified by the difference of their gaze, some looking to their right, others straight before them, another more directly towards spectator and up under eyelids.

The flesh itself is painted in clear salmon or flesh pink, shaded with warm grey, and with high pink blush upon each cheek ; all outlines are red-brown, and the shaven portions of the flesh are also represented in grey ; the lips are vermilion. The white impasto of the eyes is particularly thick, catching real high lights.

The painting is of the same firm bold style as that of the dado, evidencing well-developed methods of producing a finished effect with economy of work. Colouring very fresh and surface well preserved. 

Wall painting in Tempera is traditionally created by hand-grinding dry powdered pigments into a binding agent or medium, such as egg, glue, honey, water, milk (in the form of casein) and a variety of plant gums.