Tuesday, February 18, 2014


One day when Mom was working at the art gallery, making money to buy dog food for us, she got assigned to some of the Chinese galleries.  While she was there, she took several pictures of the sculpture that she liked.  And here are some of the pictures she took.

The first one is the head of a really big guardian lion.  In China, there are lots of lions guarding all sorts of places such as temples and tombs.  This lion was made out of grey limestone in about 681 C.E.  He used to guard the Longmen, Zhiyun Cave in Henan Province during the Tang Dynasty.  Personally, I think he looks like he's smiling or laughing, so he doesn't seem very scary to me.  Maybe he looked more fierce before all his canine teeth got broken off.  Anyway, he is a total of 55.5 inches tall, but Mom only took a picture of his head, which is bigger than two or maybe even three chihuahuas put together!

There are lots of caves in China, and people use them as temples and shrines and things like that.  Mom went in a couple of caves when she was in China, and there was writing all over the walls and ceiling of the cave.  Of course, Mom could not read the writing because it was in Chinese.  The cave Mom went in was very small, but there are also lots of bigger ones.

This carving is from the ceiling of a cave chapel at Tianlongshan, Shanxi Province.  It was made in about 570, during the Northern Qi Dynasty.  The carving shows a Flying Heavenly Being, also known as an Apsara.  To me, it looks like he is holding a piece of pita bread in his right hand, and I'm thinking it might have some juicy lamb or pork inside it.  But the information card that explains the artwork does not mention pita bread.  Instead, it says that some of the apsaras are portrayed with musical instruments, so maybe he has half a tambourine or else a castanet.  Anyway, I like the way he is smiling and looking happy.

Here's the bottom part of a statue, with only the legs.  Mom says that if she just had the bottom half of something, she would probably go ahead and throw it away.  This is why it's a good thing Mom is not a museum curator!  But what's amazing about this piece of artwork is that the card on the wall has a complete description of what the missing part of the statue looks like!

And what we learn from reading the card is this:  "The missing upper part of the image would have shown the nude torso of Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, with head bent forward resting lightly with its cheek upon the finger tips of one hand of an arm sharply bent at the elbow."  So if you have a good imagination, you can picture exactly what this statue used to look like.

Okay, so here are some more guardian lions, or else they are guard dogs.  The Chinese seemed to think that lions looked a lot like dogs, and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference if you are looking at Chinese sculpture.  In my opinion, they could have just used some nice rottweilers or mastiffs to guard their temples instead of lions.  But of course, nobody asked my opinion.

Anyway, between the two lions, there is a man or an ape or somebody, and he is holding up the world on his shoulders.  Which is what Atlas did in Greek mythology.  Or maybe it was Roman mythology.  I'm sure there is a very interesting story here, but I don't know what it is.

The lions in the lower panel here really do look more like lions than like dogs.  This was carved on a stele, which is a pillar or monument stone.  I like the way the lions have curls at the ends of their mane hairs and their tails and their tongues.  And the flowers are pretty, too.

Well, now I will show you some actual dogs, which you would never mistake for lions.  They were painted on a great big folding panel that had lots of hunting scenes and other kinds of scenes on it.  These dogs are sighthounds, and they are helping their humans hunt deer.

Then, finally, here is a scroll with calligraphy done by a modern artist.  The translation on the wall card says, "The Law of the Dao Is Its Being What It Is."  Does this mean that the saying "It is what it is" actually comes from an ancient Dao saying?  I will have to research this and find out.

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