• Koguryo and Balhae
  • Great Tomb of Gangseo
The Second Stone Prop of the Western Wall (Side – Immortals and auspicious animals)
TitleThe Second Stone Prop of the Western Wall (Side – Immortals and auspicious animals)
The Second Stone Prop of the Western Wall (Side – Immortals and auspicious animals)
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These are the immortals and auspicious animals depicted on the side of the second stone prop of the western wall. 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 the Hanshu or the History of the Han Dynasty as "Maintaining 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.
The image contains immortals, auspicious animals and ethereal mountains. The two immortals on the left leading the procession are very similar in pose and clothing. The headmost immortal's wings above the shoulders are a point of differentiation between the two. The central mountain-peak patterns are estimated to represent Daoism's celebrated mountains, the Kunlun Mountains. The Kunlun Mountains are ethereal mountains inhabited by supernatural beings. The nearby immortals and auspicious animals suggest that the mountains are indeed the Kunlun Mountains. A few green pine trees can be seen on the mountains. In Daoism, plants and fruits are used to create food that grants immortality and pine needles and seeds are usually the main ingredients. For this reason, pine trees are included in the Ten Symbols of Longevity. This mural, which spent 1,500 years inside a dark tomb, is reminiscent of lyrics from "Manbunga" by Wi Jo (1454 - 1503) from the early Joseon era that stated, "There are towering pines on the highest peaks of Kunlun Mountains."
An immortal, wearing red clothes as opposed to the typical Winged Clothes, is depicted riding a bird resembling Fenghuang to the right of the Kunlun Mountains. An auspicious animal with the head of a beast and body of a bird can be seen following the immortal.
The setting for this mural can be interpreted as an auspicious place inhabited by supernatural beings due to depictions of clouds and lotus & palmette (decorative element resembling honeysuckle leaves) rendered in the five cardinal colors. Additionally, these elements enhance the sense of speed of the flying immortals to convey dynamism and vitality.
The imaginative Daoist heavens have been well-depicted with elegant lines and vivid colors.