This is a hall cave with a truncated pyramidal ceiling constructed in the High Tang period. The ceiling center is a medallion enclosed by circular network, and in each of the four corners is an apsara. The four slopes are covered with thousand Buddha motifs. A niche with a flat ceiling in the west wall contains a seven-figure group: a Seated Buddha with legs pendent flanked by two disciples and four bodhisattvas, all renovated in the Qing dynasty. Except two bodhisattvas sit with one leg bent and one pendent, all the others stand. On the two sides of the nimbus are six painted disciples. There is a bodhi parasol on the ceiling of the niche. On each of the two sides out of the niche is a heavenly king statue, and an apsara is painted along the niche on either side.Both the south and north walls are covered with a large-sized Amitayus sutra illustration, while the layout of the figures, buildings and space arrangement of the one on the north wall are more pleasant to look at. Compared with the Early Tang sutra illustrations, the combination of the figures, the layout of the buildings, and the treatment of the perspectives displayed greater artistic refinement, especially the perspective. The hall in the center is the main body of the architecture, and it looks grand when painted in a low angle. Those buildings on the two sides are in a high angle, looking vast. The pavilions in the back are depicted at the eye level, looking deep. In this way, the focus is on the symmetry axis, slightly upward, creating a focus perspective, and making it a perfect patchwork of palace groups.On the space above the entrance in the east wall is a pureland illustration. On the south side are four bodhisattvas including Kistigabha and Avalokitesvara above the Samantabhadra illustration, the lower part is obscured. On the north side are four bodhisattvas including Bhaisajyaguru Bodhisattva above a Manjusri illustration, and below is a row of female donor figures of the Song dynasty(obscured). In the landscape,the ethereal mist and waving ripples painted at one stroke reflect the achievements of combining the line drawings with the haloing techniques in the landscape.On the tent-like top of the corridor are a large medallion, and on the south and north slopes are draperies of the Song dynasty. On the south wall are three attendant bodhisattvas of the Song dynasty (already obscured). The middle is the entrance of Cave 173. On the north wall are four attendant bodhisattvas of the Song dynasty, only three are preserved.The damaged ceiling of the front chamber shows traces of the Song dynasty sutra illustration. There is an inscription on the space above the entrance in the west wall, which was flanked by the scenes of Vaishravana attending Nezha's assembly. On the two side of the entrance are the Vimalakirti sutra illustration, in which Vimalakirti is painted on the north side and Manjusri on the south side. The image of an thousand-armed and thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara on the south wall was badly damaged due to the hole cut through the wall. There is also a hole in the image of thousand-armed Manjusri with a bowl in each hand on the north wall, and above the hole is a picture of five dhyana Buddhas.
On the space above the entrance in the east wall is a pure land illustrations. The south side of the entrance is divided into a upper level with images of four bodhisattvas, and a middle part with the Samantabhadra illustration. The lowest part is obscured. The north side is also divided into a upper part with four bodhisattvas, a middle part with the Manjusri illustration, and a lower part with a row of female donors of the Song dynasty (obscured). In the late period of the High Tang, the layout of painting Manjusri and Samantabhadra symmetrically on two sides appeared. In this cave, the composition of the Manjusri and Samantabhadra surrounded by attendants tend to be complicated. The landscape in the Manjusri illustration should be the description of Mt. Wutai.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Main Chamber South Wall
The south wall is covered with a Amitayus sutra illustration, in which there are Buddhas of the ten directions in groups in the sky, each group consisting of one Buddha and two bodhisattvas. All kinds of musical instruments like pipa, konghou, panpipe, ancient lute, waist drum, and Ruanxian (similar to guitar) flying with scarves.There are three halls in the center of the south wall. The front and back halls are one-storeyed, and the middle hall is two storeyed, all with one eave and a hip roof. There is a one-storeyed side hall on each of the south and north sides. On each of the west and east sides of the two side halls is a two-storeyed building. These buildings with a single eave and an east Asian hip and gable roof are connected to the back hall by the corridors. At the corner of the portico, there is a turret, and outside the turret is a round-shaped tower.The rafters and brackets of the halls and the turrets were painted in a low angle, and the figures at eye level. There is a large platform in front of the three central halls, on which are images of Amitayus Buddha and two attendant bodhisattvas, above the bodhisattvas are two apsaras. Three small platforms are set in front of the main hall, on which is a sixteen-person musician band in two-eight person groups, one group on each side. There are two musicians dancing and singing in the middle. On each of the side platforms is a scene of a Buddha with bodhisattvas listening to the preaching. The east and west side scenes depict the Sixteen Meditations and the story between King Bimbisara and his son Ajatasattu.The story between King Bimbisara and Ajatasattu on the west side consists of a series of episodes of different periods in a same background. Each scene is separated from each other by roofs, walls and trees. The Sixteen Meditations on the east consists of scenes of visualizing different things including the sun, the water, and the earth. In the scene of visualization of the sun,the landscape is eye-catching: the sunset glow and the setting sun are in the distance, the black river is runing through green land by the mountains afar to the nearby grassland. Lady Vedehi wears a red sunhat, sits on ground, and looks at the sun with palms joined. The ink inscription of the third scene read: "The eleventh visualization on a large Buddha image." Starting from the west side on the south wall are images of Avalokitesvara and two male donors of the Song dynasty, below them are nine donor figures of the Song dynasty (obscured).
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Main Chamber West Wall
The west niche with a flat ceiling contains a nine-figure group: one Buddha seated with legs pendant, two disciples, two bodhisattvas, two bodhisattvas sitting with one leg pendant, and one leg bent, two lokapalas (renovated in the Qing dynasty). On the ceiling of the niche is a preaching scene of three Buddhas with apsaras and cloud patterns, and below it is a parasol flanked by two apsaras flying rapidly around, one ascending upright, and the other descending, looking dynamic. On the west wall in the niche is a nimbus in bas-relief with a disciple on each side. On each side wall are three disciples and three halos. Along the niche entrance is a decorative border formed by lozenge motifs. Below the niche are nine small compartments in which Buddhist utensils and musicians are painted. Each of the south and north side alongside the niche show images of an apsara of waist height holding a banner and a halo behind the statue of the lokapala.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Main Chamber North Wall
The north wall is covered with a Amitayus sutra illustration, in which in the upper part there are scenes of the Buddhas of ten directions in groups attending the assembly, each group consisting of one Buddha and two bodhisattvas with parasols above and sitting in clouds. Similar to that of the south wall, various musical instruments with scarves are flying in the air.There are three halls in the center, and on each side of the roof are two apsaras flying towards the hall. The three main halls, all a single storey with one eave and a hip roof, are painted in respectively in the front, middle and back. On each of the two sides is a single-storeyed side hall flanked by two two-storeyed buildings with one eave and an east Asian hip and gable roof. The buildings are connected to each other by corridors, at the corner of the portico there is a turret, outside of the turret is the bluish green sea of clouds extending to the horizon. Two small apsaras fly up from the roof of the halls, forming a delightful contrast with the cloudy sea. The highly structured rafters and brackets under the eaves of the halls and turrets are painted in a low angle, and the wide halls in a high angle to display the layers and structures in good order. The figures are painted at the eye level. The bodhisattvas holding flowers and incense burners sit at random in front of Amitabha. The waving scarves are rendered smoothly and vividly. There is a large platform in front of the three central halls, on which are images of Amitayus Buddha and two attendant bodhisattvas. In front of the three platforms are another three small platforms on which are images of white cranes, peacocks, kalavinkas, garudas and bodhisattvas. All the buildings are built above the pond in which there are lotuses, incarnated boys and mandarin ducks. The platforms and the halls are connected with bridges or porticos. The ripples and whirlpools are rendered in lines of different thickness, looking true to life. These visual images are most precious material of the Tang dynasty artistry. The Sixteen Meditations and the story between King Bimbisara and his son Ajatasattu are respectively depicted on the west and east sides. Starting from the west side on the north wall are three images of Avalokitesvara, a row of female donors of the Song dynasty, and below are paintings of donor figures of the High Tang period (obscured).
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Main Chamber East Slope
Thousand Buddha motifs.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Main Chamber South Slope
Thousand Buddha motifs.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Main Chamber West Slope
Thousand Buddha motifs
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Main Chamber North Slope
Thousand Buddha motifs.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Main Chamber Ceiling Center
The ceiling center features a medallion pattern (obscured) covered by a circular net that extends to the four slopes. In each of the four corners is an apsara.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Corridor South Wall
On the south wall are three attendant bodhisattvas of the Song dynasty (obscured), and in the center is an entrance door of Cave 173 constructed in the Late Tang dynasty.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Corridor North Wall
On the north wall are four attendant bodhisattvas of the Song dynasty (only three preserved).
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Corridor Ceiling
On the tent-like ceiling of the corridor is a medallion pattern, and on two slopes are draperies of the Song dynasty.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Front Chamber South Wall
A thousand-armed thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara of the Song dynasty, damaged by a hole cut through the wall.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Front Chamber West Wall
The scene of Vaishravana attending Nezha's assembly is painted on the space above the entrance, and the south and north sides of the entrance are respectively for Manjusri and Vimalakirti from the Vimalakirti sutra illustration.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Front Chamber North Wall
A thousand-armed Manjusri with a bowl in each hand is pained on the north wall, and it was damaged by a hole cut through the wall. Above the hole are images of five dhyana Buddhas, only four are preserved.
Mogao Grottoes Cave 172 Front Chamber Ceiling
In the front chamber there are traces of a Song dynasty sutra illustration.
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