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

This mural is depicted on the corner of the first stone prop of the northern 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, these joists are long, rectangular stones that are stacked parallel to a wall and protruding slightly toward the center of a burial chamber. In the case of the Great Tomb of Gangseo, however, the four corners of the walls feature small, triangular supporting stones. This was an elaborate architectural element designed to safely distribute the ceiling load. Therefore, the Great Tomb of Gangseo can be considered a masterpiece that demonstrates the advanced stone construction technology of the Koguryo era.
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.
The vine patterns on the northern wall are the most vibrant and beautiful of all patterns painted on joists. Similar to the composition of the mural on the eastern wall, a central Baozhu pattern is flanked by symmetrical lotus-pattern palmettes. However, this mural is more colorful and well-balanced than that of the eastern wall. Coloring techniques utilized East Asian rendering methods (light, gradual applications of color to increase contrast) to emphasize contrast for a smooth, three-dimensional appearance. Notably, delicate and subtle color differences in the central Bokryeon (lotus pattern with downward-facing petals) pedestal and the lotus flower to the right are incredibly vivid in consideration of the fact that they were painted on a stone surface.
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.