Navigation:Dunhuang Academy - Dunhuang·Silk Road

Yun-ran (晕染) — a painting technique


During the 4th century, a new technique of image colouring from India, called Yunran, was assimilated into the Chinese painting technique. One lineage of this school became an important method by which the three-dimensional effect was rendered in China.

This integrated technique is also called Aotufa (凹凸法,the concave-and-convex technique), and similar to the Chiaroscuro style in Europe (a technique using light and dark with strong contrasts).

However, this method is no longer used in China, and no examples exist except in Dunhuang. This is probably because it is difficult to employ this technique when applying ink or colours on the texture of paper used for Chinese painting.


This painting technique is illustrated with an image from Cave 257 (Northern Wei).


Figure 1: The image as seen to-day.

Figure 2: Step 1

Draw draft in reddish brown lines on the wall


Figure 3: Step 2

Fill the background in red

Figure 4: Step 3

Paint the white undercoat for the skin of the



Figure 5: Step 4

Apply red in different shades to the skin.

Figure 6: Step 5

Highlight the protruding parts of the face

and body, such as the bridge of the nose,

the cheeks and chin, in white to emphasize

the luster.

The final step is to outline the contour in black ink.


When the technique further developed, different shades of red were applied on the face of a figure to show a beautiful and healthy-looking skin (same as today’s cosmetic make-up). The technique was also used on floral scrolls and landscape paintings.



                                                                                                                     First  |   Prev