Rising Dragon: Ancient Treasures from China

The Perfect Dragon

The ancient Chinese lived in a world of visible and invisible forces and creatures. Among these, the dragon was the ultimate representation of divine force in nature. Symbolizing the positive (yang), male principle in the duality of natural creation, the dragon embodied the essence of life- giving forces animating all things, depicted above as cloud-like vapors curling from the dragon's jaws. Transformative, its generative powers energize a cycle of birth, death and rebirth—thus shaping seasons, bringing rain and warming all through the sun.

By extension, the dragon’s magical powers could facilitate immortality among humans, transforming the deceased into a new life after death and transporting him to a distant paradise. As the supreme being among all creatures, its appearance foretold good fortune, universal peace and prosperity. Its vast powers propel it to the limits of the heavens in no time, accompanied by a fury of thunder, lightning and vortices of dark clouds and driven rain.

The maker of the 7th-century, gold-plated bronze object has focused his visual means on conveying the divine, transformative energy of the dragon. Steely talons, powered by the hardened muscles and sinews of the front legs and claws, tear fiercely at the firmament, while hind legs strain in extension to accelerate his flight from behind. The trim reptilian trunk flexes taut as any spring, while the coiling neck expels the breath of life from the gaping jaws. The force of life has been frozen, caught in motion for an instant.

Dragon Finial, Late 7th-early 8th century C.E.

Escutcheon and Ring Handle, Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.)

Fitting, possibly for a chariot, Early 3rd century B.C.E.

Dragon-form Tile Roof Ridge Terminal, Late 16th-early 17th century

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