The Buddhist cave complexes in the region of Kucha, located on the northern Silk Road (in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China), house impressive wall paintings dating approximately from the 5th to 10th century. These are now, for the first time, being documented, studied, and made digitally accessible. In a project of the Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig, research scholars are engaged in recording and annotating all the paintings of this region in a database information system. Fragments preserved in museums and private collections from around the world, as well as paintings preserved only in the form of photographs, drawings, or descriptions, are also being consulted. The goal is to document and evaluate the iconographic programme as well as the image content of the paintings in a historico-cultural perspective, including their literary basis and, whenever applicable, their affiliation to Buddhist schools. In the process, influences of pictorial traditions from India, Iran, classical antiquity, and China are also being examined.
This project creates the world’s largest centre for research on the Kucha paintings at the Academy of Sciences in Leipzig, in cooperation with scholars in various European countries, China, Japan, and the USA. For the first time, Buddhist cave paintings will be digitally accessible for research on religious, aesthetic, and cultural aspects of Buddhism and its spread to East Asia.
Plans for the database system include elements for both processing the material and publishing the results: “Database of the Kucha Paintings” and “Index of Iconography and Pictorial Elements of the Kucha Paintings”. Another important project component is the preparation of an annotated bibliography, containing literature relevant to the Kucha wall paintings in European languages as well as in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.