Since the Chinoiserie style became very popular, Dunhuang culture has naturally become one of the focuses. Many Chinese actresses and hanfu models have tried the Dunhuang flying apsaras. Dunhuang flying apsaras, as the top popular exotic culture, how is it possible to combine grandeur and ebullience in such an ingenious way? It all starts with the Dunhuang murals.
The Origin of Dunhuang Frescoes
During the Northern and Southern Dynasties, the divisive political situation made people’s lives turbulent. The concept of Buddhism’s compassion and salvation provided comfort to suffering people and developed rapidly.
There was a monk on way to the west, passing through Dunhuang and encountered a golden light spectacle, identified as a holy place. He hired the craftsman to dig caves here and carve Buddha statues. Over time, not only the princes and nobles, and even the common people have come to Dunhuang to excavate Buddhist caves, then the scale of the grottoes gradually expanded.
Gradually, Dunhuang, located at the west end of the Hexi Corridor, has become a true fertile land for the spread of Buddhism, forged a rich treasure house of art and culture. Grand, magnificent, and surpassingly beautiful, Dunhuang has an unparalleled aesthetic background, known as the Art Gallery in the Desert.
The largest form of artistic expression of Dunhuang is murals, with complex figures, complete scenes, and realistic scenery. There are a variety of Buddhas and Deities, as well as artistic interpretations of life anecdotes. The vivid stories and images in the murals have been repeatedly studied by later generations.
The well-known Dunhuang flying apsaras image is one of the images in Dunhuang murals. It is all over major grottoes and mostly appears in the form of group portraits. Every apsaras is graceful, hovering and dancing, wrapped around light gauze skirts, holding musical instruments in their hands, and being full of momentum.
The Evolution of Dunhuang Flying Apsara
In the original teachings, flying apsaras (Fei Tian, 飞天) refers to the combination of two little gods of Brahmanism who are good at singing and dancing in ancient mythology - Gandharva and Kinnara god. They are an inseparable couple, harmonious and happy, symbolizing happiness and joy.
The word of flying apsaras first appeared in ancient Chinese literature, as described in the "Record of Buddhist Temples in Luoyang" in the Eastern Wei Dynasty. It can be said that flying apsaras and Dunhuang grottoes basically appear at the same time.
The Dunhuang flying apsaras image that first appeared in the Northern Liang period (a dynastic state of the Sixteen Kingdoms) still retains the original western style. The bald head, thick looks, nakedness, and posture with a wide range are quite rough and simple, only the flying scarf shows a trace of softness.
Since the Northern Wei Dynasty, the look of flying apsaras have gradually become more and more beautiful, with well-proportioned facial features and a much more slender figure. Although there is still no obvious femininity, the flying apsaras’ posture is more diverse, and the rudiment of grandeur can be seen the first time.
In the change of historical dynasties, the time from the Northern Wei Dynasty to the Western Wei Dynasty was very short, but for Dunhuang flying apsaras, this short era shift has a huge change. Apsaras began to wear a wide-sleeved robe and combed the bun of the Central Plains. In addition to the influence of Taoist culture, apsaras had the concept of turning into immortals, so flying apsaras and flying fairies were accepted and integrated with each other.
During the Northern Zhou Dynasty, the flying apsaras in Dunhuang murals felt like heaven on earth. From elegant costumes to romantic musical instruments, they are similar to the terracotta figurines tombs of the same period, and the image of the Central Plains has gradually become a realistic reference for apsaras.
From the beginning of the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the flying apsaras image changed from an individual to a group portrait, reaching the peak of aesthetics. The posture is soft and graceful, and the clothing is complex and diverse. It fully draws on daily clothes and has great humanistic expression.
The flying apsaras of the prosperous Tang Dynasty basically realized the image change of localization. Free-spirited and exotic posture plus the endlessly changing beauty of the flying movement show the prosperous economic development and rich cultural intermingling of the Tang Dynasty.
Although the mural art creation in the Song Dynasty went into a stylized decline period, the apsaras shape is still meticulously arranged on the murals, continuing the elegant aesthetics. In the following Western Xia and Yuan Dynasties, more flying apsaras works that integrate minority styles remained in the world.
For more than a thousand years, Dunhuang flying apsaras has shown the characteristics of the times. What remains unchanged is that apsaras are constantly integrating with the local culture after the introduction of Buddhism into China.
Aesthetic Presentation of Dunhuang Flying Apsara
Among the thousands of Buddhas in Dunhuang's art, the flying apsaras have been shaped by history to become highly artistic. In the murals, they fly freely and without restraint, presenting a unique dance atmosphere and aesthetic effect.
Natural and Flexible Lines
The essence of the beauty of flying apsaras shapes lies in the natural flexibility of the lines. The silk and ribbons on the body are not limited by gravity and are comfortable. In addition, ascending, stretching, pitching and other actions focus on depicting the beauty of curves.
In Dunhuang murals, flying apsaras belong to the category of figure meticulous painting, with line drawings the shape and then adding heavy colors. The colors are magnificent and colorful. The flowing lines not only outline the elegant and light posture of the character, but also vividly show the cadence and rhythm of the character in flying, sometimes soothing and smooth, sometimes short and powerful, like undulating musical movement.
Magnificent and Variety Colors
Dunhuang color is the real touch of the core of Dunhuang culture. Dunhuang murals are mainly made of mineral pigments. The colors are not limited to the traditional colors of blue, red, yellow, white and black, but also precious and beautiful colors such as blue and gold.
Generally speaking, the main colors of the Dunhuang flying apsaras are generally red-green combinations with low brightness. They may come from the earth red of hematite and copper green of hydrogen copper ore. The relatively warm and cold colors and almost the same brightness bring harmonious aesthetics.
Modern Application of Dunhuang Elements
Dunhuang culture is often difficult to bloom freely in the shape because of its strong religious color, but many designers still tirelessly carry out modern and innovative designs with the aesthetic elements of Dunhuang murals.
As an excellent brand that tells the Chinese style to the world, Heaven Gaia is indispensable. The 2019 spring and summer series takes Dunhuang murals as the origin. Focusing on Buddhist elements such as Bodhisattva and flying apsaras in the murals, using Kesi, Suzhou embroidery, and other crafts, it presents the antique and thick Dunhuang culture on the elegant Western-style Chinese clothes, and emphasizes the introversion and implicitness of oriental beauty to the world with an elegant background color.
In 2019, Mark Fairwhale and the designer brand 8ON8 jointly created the Dunhuang flying apsaras series, which integrates the colors and lines in Dunhuang murals with Western clothing, and expresses the cosmology and worldview contained by apsaras with a retro-futuristic design.
Designer brand TUYUE 2022 spring and summer series refines the elements from the Northern Dynasty of Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang into the clothing, selects traditional mineral plant pigments for printing and dyeing, and the fabric is made old to imitate the steady and rich colors of the ancient murals after thousands of years weathering, and extends the beauty of Dunhuang with poetry.
CHUYAN takes the most deeply rooted ribbon in the image of flying apsaras as the core of the design, allowing charming curves to either around the body, decorate the waist, or attach it to the shoulders and neck. Successfully reproduce the agility and beauty of apsaras in real clothes.
Reference: Fashion COSMO