Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and ThingsMain MenuWorld MapClick pins to learn more about the object that originated thereTimelinePre-Columbian Gold Headband800 A.D. - 1500 A.D.Gold Eagle PendantsSepik River Headrest20th centuryStatue of Saint Barbara17th century France, polychromed wood, artist unknownCabinet door from the Imperial Palace of Beijing with Imperial DragonChen Youzhang, 1755Bronze LampHead of John the BaptistLauren Linquest, '19Ida Rubenstein, 1909 Sculpture by Jo DavidsonCassone ChestWater-Carrier Vase with Bamboo Pattern and BambooLenore Vanderkooi, 1996Lotus Flowers in a Wood VaseRevolutions Per Minute: The Art RecordOpening page
Detail from Uncut Imperial Dragon Robe with Twelve Symbols
12016-04-21T01:54:28-07:00Clancy Taylore0817d6754d885b1427d7449201943e8011e1b4785321satin silk brocade, reign of Jiaqing (1796-1820)plain2016-04-21T01:54:28-07:00Clancy Taylore0817d6754d885b1427d7449201943e8011e1b47
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12016-04-21T00:15:22-07:00Five-Clawed Dragon5gallery2016-04-21T02:00:27-07:00In Chinese lore, the dragon is a recurring symbol that is entrenched in all aspects of Chinese culture and civilization. The dragon is thought to be the origin from which all other animals evolved: birds from feilong (“flying dragon”), animals from yinglong ("small dragon"), fish from jiaolong ("scaly dragon"), and crustaceans from xianlong ("primordial dragon"). The dragon has long been associated with benevolence and fertility as a being who brought rain to the people, and has also come to symbolize strength, protection, happiness and goodness.
The imperial power first claimed the dragon as a symbol for the emperor in the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) when rulers looked to bring good fortune to their lands. As early as the Tang dynasty (618-907), the dragon motif became a symbol of power as an integral part of the emperor's robe. Today, the robe the emperor wears in ceremonial circumstances is even referred to as “the dragon robe,” even though it is embroidered with eleven other symbols that stand for the emperor’s power and the values he stands for. The dragon, “ever infinite in its changes, symbolizes the adaptability of the good and wise king, who published his laws and instructions according to the needs of the time.” It wasn’t until the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) that the emperor’s motif was specialized even further, and the five-clawed, two-horned dragon became the specific image of imperial might, and it became treasonous to use the image outside of the imperial circle.
The Chinese dragon and its depictions today follow very specific guidelines. As nine is a divine number in Chinese tradition, the dragon is composed of nine animals. The dragon’s features are an amalgam of a stag’s horns, a camel’s head, demon eyes, a snake neck, a belly like a clam, carp scales, a hawk’s claws, tiger paws, and ears like a cow. The number of scales of the dragon is 117 the sum of 81 which are imbued with the essence of yin and 36 yang, both numbers that are multiples of nine. Chinese dragons are also special in their abilities; they can fly without wings, shape-shift, be as large as the universe or as small as a silkworm. The symbol of the Chinese five-clawed dragon is a very prevalent one, especially in art of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was carved into doors, embroidered on robes, and painted onto ceramics, among other pieces.