striding dragon


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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

With claws turned sideways and a muscular tail winding around its extended leg, this majestic dragon strides haughtily, mouth open in pursuit of a jewel. This dramatic pose does not appear before the Tang dynasty, which immediately preceded the brief Five Dynasties era. Long associated with good things for agriculture, including the water of wells, springs, rivers, and rain, by the Tang dynasty dragons had also come to symbolize the emperor.

Carved in relief from a large block of stone, this splendid creature is architectural in scale. Traces of the original pigments are still visible: gold on the eye, red in the mouth, and blue on the body. In China, the blue dragon is associated with the east, which suggests this slab may have come from the east wall of a tomb.

Transverse grooves on the underside of the dragon's upper lip reveal an influence that arrived with Buddhism, specifically, from the depiction of a mythical Indian aquatic animal called a makara. The orblike disk with sinuous projections in front of the dragon is a motif that first appeared in the Five Dynasties period and became practically ubiquitous in later art, especially on ceramics and textiles.

Our Western dragons represent greed. However, the Chinese dragon is different. It represents the vitality of the swamps. . . . That's a lovely kind of dragon, one that yields the bounty of the waters, a great glorious gift.
-Folklorist Joseph Campbell, 1988

(J.J. Lally & Co., Oriental Art, New York); {1} purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1999 (1999.1). {2}

{1} In the IMA Historical File a document indicates that this object was purchased by J.J. Lally & Co. "in Hong Kong from a dealer, 1996." For information on James J. Lally and J.J. Lally and Company, see Souren Melikian, "James Lally and the Booming Chinese Market," International Herald Tribune, January 31-February 1, 1987. Lally opened his gallery in 1986.
{2} See exhibition catalogue, Hou-Mei Sung, Decoding Messages: The Symbolic Language of Chinese Animal Painting, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 9, 2009-January 3, 2010, no. 45 (ill.). IMA Temporary Receipt No. 9130/1.

Object Information

Five Dynasties
creation date
stone with traces of pigments
19-1/2 x 54-1/2 x 5-1/4 in. (without base)
23-1/2 x 54-1/2 x 10-1/8 in. (installed)
accession number
credit line
Eleanor Evans Stout and Margaret Stout Gibbs Memorial Fund in Memory of Wilbur D. Peat, Director of Indianapolis Museum of Art 1929 - 1965
Public Domain
Asian Art

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