179. A Relief of Poplar Wood showing a Buddhist Guardian King

Probably from Loulan, Xinjiang, 3rd century AD
Size: 37 × 25 cm

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Guardian kings, bearing swords and wearing crowns, are familiar attendants of the Buddha in the caves of Dunhuang (Cave 45) and on the stone friezes of Gandhara, between the 4th and 6th centuries. This wood image, for all of its fragmentary condition, is an extreme rarity, coming as it does from one of the outposts of the Silk Road buried under the sands of the unforgiving Taklamakan Desert. When news of their existence first reached Europe in the late 19th century, they drew a series of the most intrepid and knowledgeable explorers ever to venture forth.

The Sven Hedin Foundation in Stockholm has a similar larger wood relief discovered in Loulan in 1900.