Great Beasts of Legend: Tomb Guardians


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Film Description:The Story of the Chinese Winged Lions in the Penn Museum

June 7, 2017

Dr. Adam Smith, Assistant Curator, Asian Section, Penn Museum

The earliest examples of monumental stone sculpture from East Asia in the Penn Museum are the two Winged Lions that confront one another across the space of the Chinese Rotunda. A tradition of large-scale stone sculpture in China appears rather late, and suddenly, at around the time the Penn Winged Lions were carved in the 2nd or 3rd century CE. These examples are unmistakably Chinese in style, but by the time they were made, Winged Lions had long been in use across Eurasia as far as the Mediterranean as components of monumental architecture. The process by which Winged Felines reached China is complex and not fully understood, but their arrival is unmistakably part of a package of innovations that included rock-cut and masonry architecture, fluted stone columns, the first translations into Chinese of Buddhist literature, and the first Chinese representations of the Buddha.

For further reading:
Danielson, Eric N. 2012. Adventures in China blog, ‘The southern dynasties imperial tombs in Danyang,’Adventures in China blog dated May 19, 2012. https://archive.fo/odJw

Paludan, Ann. 1991. The Chinese Spirit Road: The Classical Tradition of Stone Tomb Statuary. Yale University Press (New Haven, CT).

Till, Barry. 1980. ‘Some observations on stone winged chimeras at ancient Chinese tomb sites,’ Artibus Asiae 42(4):261-281.
Video Category:Lecture
Video Date:06/07/2017
Contributor: Adam Smith
Tags: Buddhist sculptures | China | Chinese antiquities | Funerary sculpture | Mythology

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