“Scenes of Hell and Damnation in Dunhuang Murals”

Moretti, Costantino. “Scenes of Hell and Damnation in Dunhuang Murals.” Arts Asiatiques, vol. 74, 2019, pp. 5–30. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26904730.

This reading explores the ways hell was portrayed in art in the Buddhist religion, specifically in the murals of Dunhuang. These portrayals were very prominent and had deliberate didactic purposes. The murals displayed grotesque depictions of hell and as such they served as a reminder of the significance and power of karmic retribution in Buddhism.

The article provides lots of information about several different murals, as well as pictures of them to provide a level of visual understanding. It also explains the layout of the caves and why certain murals are placed where they are. It goes on to dissect the individual examples and provides explanations on what we see. These individual examples display what the tortures of hell look like, so in a way they reinforce the doctrines of the Buddhist religion by showing eternal suffering in specific forms. Costantino uses text to explain these images, so in that sense, the chapter does a good job familiarizing the reader with the topic. 

The reading emphasizes that the murals had several visual motifs that they relied, but many of the “principal characteristics of hell were hard to render in painting.” (28) This shows how the paintings mostly served as images to insight warning and fear of hell and did not teach specific beliefs of the Buddhist hell.

Author: Spencer Crough

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