• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2238

    Masterworks of Ancient and Imperial China

    17 September 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 579


    LIAO DYNASTY (907-1125)

    Price Realised  


    LIAO DYNASTY (907-1125)
    Cast as a ferocious three-clawed, scaly dragon shown striding with its mouth open in a roar revealing long pointed fangs and the tongue, with a pair of sweptback horns above the trailing, wind-blown mane, and short spines along the backbone leading to the long tail, with small pierced tabs for attachment applied to the edges
    6 ft. (157.5 cm.) long, stand

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    This magnificent, lavishly gilded copper plaque likely represents the Azure Dragon of the East, one of the animal symbols of the four directions (Sishen or Siling, the Four Divinities). The other animals are the White Tiger of the East, the Vermillion Bird of the South and the Dark Warrior of the North. This animal symbolism orginated in central China and was well established by the Han dynasty, when images of the four directional animals were frequently represented in tombs. In a funerary context, such imagery, illustrating the temporal or directional order of the universe, embodied talismanic powers and would have served an apotropeic function.

    A very similarly rendered dragon, along with the other three animals of the four cardinal points, can be found decorating the casket cover of a Liao dynasty painted wood coffin unearthed in 1965 from a tomb at Lingzidonggou, Guangdegong, Wengniute Banner, north of Chifeng. See Empires Beyond the Great Wall, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, March - August 1994, fig. 72. See, also, the group of four wood carvings of the four directional animals, including a similarly depicted dragon, excavated in Baomotugacha in Chaogewendu Township, Wengniute Banner, included in the exhibition, Gilded Splendor - Treasures from China's Liao Empire (907-1125), Asia Society, New York, 2006, pp. 198-205, no. 48a-d. Also included in the exhibition, pp. 224-5, no. 55, was a gilt-bronze mirror decorated with a similar dragon encircling the central knob, which was excavated from the tomb of Yelü Yuzhi and Chonggun at Hansumu Township, Aluke'erqin Banner. A Liao gilded silver crown also displaying similar striding dragons is illustrated by E.C. Bunker and J.M. White, Adornment for the Body and Soul, Hong Kong, 1999, no. 90.

    A Technical Examination Report is available upon request.


    Acquired in Hong Kong in the late 1970s.


    Traverse City, Dennos Museum Center, Northwestern Michigan College, Land of the Dragons: 6000 Years of Chinese Art, 17 March - 1 September 2002.