• Koguryo and Balhae
  • Great Tomb of Gangseo
Ceiling Mural No. 1
TitleCeiling Mural No. 1
Ceiling Mural No. 1

This mural was painted on the ceiling of the Great Tomb of Gangseo. The ceiling of the Great Tomb of Gangseo was constructed by alternately stacking triangular granite slabs in the four corners of the burial chamber to fill the void. This method of ceiling construction is referred to as an intersecting triangular ceiling or caisson ceiling. The ceiling in the image is a view straight up from the center of the burial chamber. The long rectangular granite slabs that comprise the outermost layer are the first supporting stones and referred to as parallel supporting stones due to their rectilinear installation method unlike the triangular stones directly above. The four triangular stone slabs arranged to create a square shape on top of the first tier of parallel supporting stones are referred to as intersecting triangular stones or second-tier triangular supporting stones. The four triangular stone slabs that sit on top of the second tier of triangular supporting stones create a diamond shape and are referred to as third-tier triangular supporting stones. The one-tier parallel supporting stones and the two-tier intersecting triangular stones increase the ceiling height while filling the void at each level. The final polished square stone slab in the center covers the ceiling and seals the top to complete the burial chamber. This caisson ceiling construction method originated in ancient Mesopotamia and was prevalent in Greece. It passed through Western and Central Asia and spread throughout Koguryo. The same architectural style has also been discovered in Buddhist grottoes of the Western Regions (generally refers to areas to the west of China). Therefore, this style can be regarded as a valuable proof of cultural exchange between Koguryo and the Western Regions (generally refers to areas to the west of China).
Unlike other methods in which a stone slab is simply installed above the burial chamber, ceiling construction methods utilizing intersecting triangular stones allow for an increased sense of depth and volume to express the feeling of looking into the sky. This type of space was highly suitable for expressing the heavens of the afterlife in murals by Koguryo artists. By utilizing intersecting triangular stones to construct tall ceilings, the Koguryo artists were able to fully and effectively express their visions of the heavenly afterlife in the burial chamber.
The Paintings of the Four Spirits in the Great Tomb of Gangseo are the finest examples of such murals from the late Koguryo era. Most ceiling murals employed Daoist imagery such as celestial beings, immortals, auspicious animals, and colorful floral patterns to depict mystical and imaginative immortal worlds. Constellations symbolizing the heavens were also utilized. The contents of the murals in the image are painted on the bottom of the supporting stones. The auspicious animals and beautiful floral patterns show a glimpse of an imaginative and beautiful other world. The mural was rendered beautifully to convey a sense of melodious music resonating from the heavens. The Yellow Dragon is dynamically depicted in the center of the ceiling together with the Four Spirits on the four walls of the burial chamber to complete the Daoist Five Elements of Faith.