• Koguryo and Balhae
  • Great Tomb of Gangseo
The First Stone Prop of the Northeastern Wall (Joist)
TitleThe First Stone Prop of the Northeastern Wall (Joist)
The First Stone Prop of the Northeastern Wall (Joist)

This mural is depicted on the corner of the first stone prop of the northeasten wall in the Great Tomb of Gangseo. The first stone props, also known as joists or Yangbangs, are construction elements installed above the burial chamber walls to safely support heavy ceiling stones. Generally, these joists are long, rectangular stones that are stacked parallel to a wall and protruding slightly toward the center of a burial chamber. In the case of the Great Tomb of Gangseo, however, the four corners of the walls feature small, triangular supporting stones. This was an elaborate architectural element designed to safely distribute the ceiling load. Therefore, the Great Tomb of Gangseo can be considered a masterpiece that demonstrates the advanced stone construction technology of the Koguryo era.
The pattern in the image is a portion of the lotus palmette (decorative element resembling honeysuckle leaves) arabesque pattern depicted on the joist. These arabesque vines are known as wave-shaped arabesque patterns due to their undulating appearance. Arabesque patterns have seen widespread use in ancient Greece, Rome, Persia, Arab Nations, India, China, South Korea, and Japan. They are truly multi-national patterns that have continued to develop in diversity as influenced by each country's own culture. China's arabesque patterns are categorized into animal-influenced arabesque patterns (dragon arabesque) and traditionally Western plant-type arabesque patterns. Due to the vigorous cultural exchanges with China, both types of arabesque patterns have appeared in Koguryo art. Earlier examples of arabesque patterns can be primarily seen within the Pyongyang region in the Anak Tombs No. 1 through 3, Susan-ri Tomb, and Hwanmunchong. Western-influenced arabesque patterns were introduced to Koguryo near the end of the 5th century and can be seen on various Paintings of the Four Spirits in the Four Spirits in Tonggu, Middle Tomb of Gangseo, and Great Tomb of Gangseo.
The arabesque pattern painted on the supporting stone in the corner of the northeastern wall features diverse images of blossoming lotus buds between palmette leaves. Despite the simple repetition, freely-expressed color depth and line thickness well-represents the colorful and graceful beauty of the lotus vines. Coloring techniques utilized East Asian rendering methods (light, gradual applications of color to increase contrast) to emphasize contrast for a smooth, three-dimensional appearance.
In Buddhism, lotus is a flower that symbolizes enlightenment and rebirth. However, Daoist mural tombs featuring the Paintings of the Four Spirits from the late Koguryo era emphasized the flower's decorative elements rather than its religious context.