Northwestern University Information Technology (NUIT) has contributed about a dozen images, and 7 virtual reality panoramas, documenting Buddhist sculpture at Shuilu’an Temple in Lantian, Shaanxi Province, China to the Artstor Digital Library.

The temple dates from the Tang Dynasty (c. 1000 CE) and the site is famous for its Ming Dynasty (c. 1500 CE) painted sculpture. Polychrome terracotta sculptures line the the temple’s main Buddha hall, and range in size from bas relief figures a few centimeters high to one and a half meter free-standing guardians. The entire decorative program includes approximately 3,500 figures, representing many different forms of the Buddha, as well as scenes of the Buddha’s life. For this reason, Shuilu’an Temple is often referred to as “Little Dunhuang,” as if the two-dimensional murals painted in the Mogao caves in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, had been realized in three-dimensional sculpture.

With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Northwestern University undertook a collaborative project to document Shuilu’an Temple with high-resolution digital imagery, including 3-D capture. Project partners included Northwestern University Academic and Research Technologies Advanced Media Production Studio, the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau and the Dunhuang Research Academy. Staff from Northwestern University had previously collaborated with the Dunhuang Research Academy to photograph the Mogao caves in Dunhuang – an initiative that was also funded by the Mellon Foundation. Images from the Dunhuang project are also available in the Artstor Digital Library as part of the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive.