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Phoenix Plaque: Gallery Label - Current


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
This remarkable group of twenty-six gilded plaques, most likely from Szechwan province, includes silhouetted figures of animals, deities, pi discs, and huang arcs with twin dragon heads. Cut from bronze sheets and gilded, several plaques feature silver-plated highlights and engraved details. While Chinese archaeologists have verified that such plaques served as tomb decoration in expensive burials during the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220), it is not certain how they were arranged or to what they were affixed, possibly a wall of the tomb chamber or the sides of a lacquered wooden coffin.

More certain is the religious, especially Taoist, mythology expressed by several of these objects. The twin towers, for instance, represent the gate of heaven, and the four-winged human figures are the immortal yu-jen (literally, "feathered men.") Each carries the sacred ling-chih fungus of immortality. An openwork plaque depicts the Queen Mother of the West (Hsi-wang mu) in seated posture with her winged tiger and dragon on either side. Two of the three disks are engraved with images of Hsi-wang mu and heaven's gate. The circular pi disk itself is an ancient Chinese symbol for heaven and the wide arc-shaped huang with their dragon head finials are rooted in Bronze Age mythology and most likely functioned here as protective emblems. There is also an engraved quatrefoil motif representing the four directions, a group of six crested birds, and a magnificent phoenix possibly connoting the noble rank of the tomb occupant. The large, square plaque depicts a giant phoenix bird standing against swirling clouds in front of a slender girl wearing long robes with wide sleeves.Four domed, oval cicada-shaped bosses cover spikes in the four corners. Engraved on the backs with large wings and circuloar eyes, these insects were ancient symbols connoting long life.

Thought to be the largest such group of Han dynasty plaques in the West, the set provides excellent visits into the cult of heaven, quest for immortality, and the general belief system and burial customs in western China during Eastern Han.

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Type: Commentary, Gallery Label - Current
Source: Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Rights: Copyright Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Added to Site: November 21, 2009