A rare carved limestone mock door

 唐   石灰岩綫刻昆侖舞者假門石碑
高 52.1 釐米

The door is of broadly square form surmounted by an arched gable enclosing a semi-circular tympanum. The double doorway is recessed behind door posts and lintel, and is secured by a large lock carved in relief. Each leaf of the door is decorated in a distinctive style of incising and low-relief carving with a figure of a guardian in full elaborate armour. The door posts are decorated with winding flowers and the lintel has a pair of mandarin ducks and further flowers. Outside the door posts are uprights of curved section, also with floral decoration, extending down on each side to rectangular blocks carved on the front with mythical beasts, and supporting recumbent lions carved in the round. The uprights extend upwards to the arched gable, decorated with flowers and geometric elements, around the tympanum carved and incised with a scene of a dancer, perhaps Sogdian, with long sleeves aflutter on a lotus-shaped mat, flanked by two chubby Central Asian boys wearing jewelled bracelets and necklaces and headdresses. The stone itself is of grey colour, with some darker and lighter areas worked into the carved design.


Sotheby’s New York, 17th September 2003, lot 19
New York private collection

For a mock door of larger size but similar composition, with semicircular tympanum and two-leaf door, and carved in the same style, see the example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 20.89; and for another related mock door in the Field Museum, Chicago, accession number 1114, see Osvald Siren, Chinese Sculpture, no.436.

Mock doors like the present example and the two mentioned above, were carved in the form of end panels of sarcophagi, but set into the tomb wall. That they are not end panels detached from large sarcophagi is evident from their integral nature: sarcophagus end panels are divided between the tympanum and the door itself, corresponding to the gap between cover and base. 

Their function has not been elucidated in detail, but to judge from 
the symbolism of lively dancers, lotus blossom and mandarin ducks on the present example, they were intended as doorways to a paradise of joy and the continuation of connubial bliss.

Dimensions: Height: 52.1cm, 20 ½ inches

Date: Tang Dynasty (618-906)

Stock No. 940

Price: On Request