In 1927 the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Canada, acquired a single printed sheet from the Dunhuang cave library in what is now Gansu province, China. A votive print of the Buddhist deity Avalokiteśvara commissioned by the ruler of Dunhuang in the year 947 CE, the ROM print remains the only Dunhuang document in a Canadian public institution and serves as an important material artefact of the forms of Buddhist patronage and practice witnessed along the old Silk Roads. Nearly a century later, scholars have identified more than thirty whole, partial, and compound paper artefacts related to the ROM Dunhuang print now scattered around the world. These dated paper artefacts point to the mass production of devotional prints at Dunhuang in which commemorative texts are recorded alongside images of Buddhist deities. This talk examines this unique set of Buddhist objects, and explores how modern research can shed light on the history of these thousand-year-old prints by offering a comparative survey of the contemporary artefacts; some in essentially their original state, and some metamorphosed into other forms and types of objects. It reflects on the potential for scientific analysis, including non-destructive scientific methods, to provide further insight into the materiality and history of these Dunhuang prints.
Image Credit: Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, ©ROM