• Koguryo and Balhae
  • Great Tomb of Gangseo
The Second Stone Prop of the Eastern Wall (Side - Daoist Figures)
TitleThe Second Stone Prop of the Eastern Wall (Side - Daoist Figures)
The Second Stone Prop of the Eastern Wall (Side - Daoist Figures)

This is an image of Daoist figures as depicted on the eastern wall of the second stone prop in the Great Tomb of Gangseo. Various immortals, celestial beings, and auspicious animals appear on all four sides of the second stone props in the Great Tomb of Gangseo. The concept of Daoist immortals emerged during the late Warring States period. The term immortal and its synonym supernatural being were poetically defined by Ban Gu (32 - 92 CE) in the 'Art and Literature' section of Hanshu or the History of the Han Dynasty a truthful life while wandering the outside world, with pure intentions in one way or another, soothing the heart in balance of life and death, and existing without any sorrow." Therefore, an immortal or supernatural being was an ideal existence pursued by all since ancient times to transcend death and wander the heavens.
The Daoist immortal appeared frequently in both art and literature of the Southern and Northern Dynasties after Immortal Ideology became prevalent during the era. Notably, after Immortal Ideology was assimilated into Daoism and Daoism became a major religion in China, its influence greatly expanded throughout the general population. As depictions of immortals greatly increased during this period, a gradual process of anthropomorphosis changed beasts-forms into elegant, tall, and slender human-like figures. The immortals on the murals in the Great Tomb of Gangseo show the influence of immortal figures from the Southern and Northern Dynasties. They are categorized into traditional immortal iconography as well as Buddhism-influenced immortals wearing Heavenly Clothes.
General characteristics of traditional immortal iconography include the following: ① Reliance on external modes of transportation such as dragons or cranes. ② Riding on clouds. ③ Sprouting wings. ④ Wearing Winged Clothes. ⑤ Long ears. ⑥ Wearing pointed shoes. In addition, they are often depicted holding Immortal Flora, incense, canes, fans, or wearing headpieces.
Immortals, celestial beings, ethereal mountains, and Fenghuang can be observed in the image. The head and limbs of the immortal in the front are indistinct due to deterioration, but its Winged Clothes (clothing worn by immortals with the ends of the hems split like bird wings) are still clearly visible. The imagery is reminiscent of an ascetic (a person pursuing spiritual goals, abstaining from worldly pleasures) using teleportation techniques. The cloud and palmette patterns blowing in the wind that surround the immortal convey a sense a speed in motion. The trailing celestial being is depicted wearing red Heavenly Clothes and flying with bent-knees in an elegant pose. A Fenghuang is in close pursuit behind the celestial being. In Daoism, the Fenghuang is a bird of fantasy that only exists in the heavens alongside supernatural beings. The colors and lines of the Fenghuang and celestial beings are in beautiful harmony. A series of layered large mountain peaks can be seen in the center of the mural. These mountains are estimated to represent the Three Sacred Mountains of the East from Daoist mythology. The name Three Sacred Mountains refers to Mt. Penglai, Mt. Fangzhang, and Mt. Yingzhou. As it refers to three separate mountains, its scale is naturally much larger than the Kunlun Mountains depicted on the western wall.
The imaginative Daoist heavens have been well-depicted with elegant lines and vivid colors.