Page last updated at 21:19 GMT, Tuesday, 22 April 2008 22:19 UK

Oil painting 'originated in East'

By Vincent Dowd
BBC News

Bamiyan Buddha, pictured in 1997
The Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed in 2001

Painting with oils was taking place in what is now Afghanistan centuries before such techniques were known to Europeans, researchers say.

French-based scientists have been investigating cave paintings at the ancient complex of Bamiyan.

Until 2001 two vast 6th-Century Buddhas stood at Bamiyan. Then they were blown up by Afghanistan's then-Taleban government as un-Islamic.

Behind the Buddhas was a network of caves in which monks lived and prayed.

Now a team from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble has painstakingly analysed the ancient paintings in those caves.

They say that in 12 caves 7th-Century wall-paintings were created using oil paint, derived possibly from walnuts or the poppies which grew in the area.

It is believed oil painting in Europe began only some six centuries after this. The findings suggest these may be the oldest known examples anywhere of painting with oil.

Lessons from Bamiyan

The wall-paintings were devotional art showing the Buddha, often in colourful robes.

Probably the work was carried out by itinerant artists travelling the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the West.

There are plans to reconstitute the Bamiyan Buddhas - work which everyone acknowledges would be tremendously difficult.

But even without their presence, Bamiyan has much to tell the world about an era of art which is still little understood.

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