Yuan Terracotta Relief Panel - H.552
Origin: China
Circa: 1279 AD to 1368 AD
Dimensions: 16" (40.6cm) high
Catalogue: V20
Collection: Chinese
Style: Yuan Dynasty
Medium: Terracotta


The Yuan developed vigorous depictions of pacing and often winged felines, which were placed in pairs to guard the sacred ways to the royal tombs--a widespread practice during the preceding Sung dynasty as well. In this relief, a lion is pictured crouching over an embroidered ball clenching in its mouth a long twine that is tangled beneath its feet. The lion is not an indigenous animal to China, but it was introduced later in connection with Buddhism, figuring as the defender of law and protector of buildings. It is an emblem of valor and energy that were considered essential to the cultivation of wisdom.

The Chinese lion, despite its big eyes and fierce countenance, is not treated as the supreme predatory animal--a position, rather, held by the tiger which flourishes in the northern hinterland and evokes fear in the hearts and imagination of Chinese people. Instead, the lion is often represented as a mythical beast playing with a ball or sacred gem amidst peony flowers and flexing its beautifully curled mane. This particular representation seems to blend mythical and playful characteristics, creating a scene that is not only awe-inspiring but informative of the animal innocent yet righteous nature. - (H.552)

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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