Terracotta Relief Sculpture - PF.4360
Origin: China
Circa: 1279 AD to 1368 AD
Dimensions: 16.25" (41.3cm) high
Catalogue: V22
Collection: Chinese
Style: Yuan Dynasty
Medium: Terracotta


This panel depicts the encounter between the tiger and dragon, two powerful animals of Chinese cosmogony and legend. On the left side, the serpentine-bodied dragon slithers down from heaven, keeping its hind legs attached to the clouds and propelling itself on waves crashing against a rocky surface. This dragon is an amalgamation of beastly qualities, possessing the horns of a deer, scales of a carp, claws of hawk, palm of a tiger, torso of a snake and belly of a frog. The tiger rules in the terrain of dense forests and steep mountains, emerging from its lair to confront this celestial force. Its body is short and muscular, its forelegs and hind legs decorated in a spiral motif and stripes depicted by neatly aligned horizontal markings. Its protruding eyes, rounded face and stylistic nose give the tiger a human quality, as it growls in response to the dragon's fierce roar.

The fifth animal of the Twelve Terrestrial Branches, the dragon is an mythological creature that descends from heaven to lurk the waterways of the world, meting out the good from the evil and exerting beneficial influence on mankind. The dragon symbolizes vigilance, grandeur and worldly success as it is used as a motif in imperial regalia and official decorum. There are many representations of the dragon, each suggesting various meanings. The five-clawed dragon refers to the King, while the transformation of the carp into a dragon is a metaphor of scholarly achievement.

The tiger, the third of the Twelve Terrestrial Branches, is supreme among animals of the real world that roam the earth. It is taken as the emblem of magisterial dignity and sternness, as the model for the courage and fierceness that should characterize a soldier, and its presence or roar is synonymous with danger and terror. In this scene, the dragon and tiger meet, symbolizing the confrontation between the two great forces of the universe: heaven and earth. - (PF.4360)



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