• Koguryo and Balhae
  • Great Tomb of Gangseo
The Second Stone Prop of the Northern Wall (Side - Celestial being iconography)
TitleThe Second Stone Prop of the Northern Wall (Side - Celestial being iconography)
The Second Stone Prop of the Northern Wall (Side - Celestial being iconography)

This is a detailed view of a celestial being depicted on the second stone prop of the northern wall in the Great Tomb of Gangseo. A celestial being is an immortal entity, much like the immortals featured in Daoist worlds. The imagery of celestial beings adorned in Heavenly Clothes is different from the traditional East Asian immortals generally wearing Winged Clothes (clothing worn by immortals with the ends of the hems split like bird wings). Influenced by flying imagery in Buddhism, a celestial being is a variant of the immortal that originated in the Southern Dynasty of China. Celestial beings are divided into two types. One relies only on Heavenly Clothes for flight, and the other is a combination that wears Heavenly Clothes while riding birds such as the Fenghuang.
A total of four celestial beings can be seen on the second stone prop of the northern wall. They are all flying in the same direction with their Heavenly Clothes fluttering in the wind. This mural completes the symmetry with the four traditional immortals depicted on the opposite southern wall. Both celestial beings on the left feature a bowl in one hand while scattering their contents, the flower petals, throughout the immortal world with the other hand. This depiction is a Daoist reinterpretation of the Buddhist Flower Offering (a type of offering in which flower petals are scattered in a display of dedication to Buddha) motif. Of the two trailing celestial beings, the one to the left is playing a Daegeum (large bamboo transverse flute), and the one to the right is playing a Piri (bamboo oboe). This type of celestial being playing musical instruments was a popular motif used in Buddhist art. The image conveys a sense of Korean folk music resonating throughout the heavens to entertain supernatural beings.
The body posture and Heavenly Clothes are reminiscent of elegant flying imagery found in Buddhist art. Daoist figures that portray tall and slender appearances indicate significant advancement from the beast-like immortals of the Han Dynasty and reflect a new trend in Southern Dynasty of China art. The neat black contours and the bright and concise red and white color treatment enhance the celestial being’s sense of motion. Cloud patterns below the celestial beings emphasize a sense of motion. A glimpse of the mystical and imaginative Daoist heavens can be seen through the elegant and beautiful appearance of the celestial beings.