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Dunhuang Caves and the Aesthetics of Scale
The Mogao Caves (Chin. Mogao ku 莫高窟) contain dozens of miniature caves dating from the Tang and Five Dynasties periods. Though at 1/10th the size and thus too small to hold any ritual practice, these miniature caves replicate in perfect detail the visual programs of larger caves. Scholars have neglected these diminutive creations as a distinct phenomenon, and as of yet no research exists on the topic. This talk provides the first thorough analysis of these small-scale caves, outlining their typologies and content, as well as their distribution among larger caves. Crucial to this exploration is the concept of scale in medieval Chinese religion and art, and its importance in revealing how such caves functioned conceptually and ritually. Finally, through a detailed comparison of form and visuality, we explore how it is impossible to fully understand the Mogao Caves as a sacred site without full consideration of these striking miniatures.
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