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

This is the mural depicted on the first stone prop of the eastern 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, Koguryo mural tombs were constructed to mimic actual building structures. Traditional wooden architectural elements such as joists began to emerge in early mural tombs. Joists in early mural tombs usually featured normal or oddly-shaped cloud patterns in various colors to transcend the tomb constructed on earth and accentuate the sense of being in the heavens of the afterlife. However, such imagery began to be replaced by plant-based arabesque patterns in mural tombs of the mid-Koguryo era due to a stronger influence of Buddhism.
The patterns in the image are combinations of lotus patterns and vine-shaped arabesque palmettes, collectively known as wave-shaped arabesque patterns. 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.
As seen in the image, the arabesque patterns were rendered symmetrically around the central Baozhu (lotus bud-shaped bead) pattern. Baozhu-shaped buds and a blooming three-leaved palmette can be seen above the Bokryeon (lotus pattern with downward-facing petals) pedestal. Arabesque vine palmettes featuring wave-like smooth curves flank the Baozhu, and several different types of lotus patterns can be seen inside the semicircular vine. In particular, the coloring techniques for the lotus pattern and palmette leaves are reminiscent of Paintings of Flowers and Birds completed in East Asian rendering methods (light, gradual applications of color to increase contrast). This arabesque pattern features a beautiful harmony between flowing lines and subtle changes in color.
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.