Rafter finial in the shape of a dragon’s head and wind chime

Period: early Goryeo dynasty (918–1392)

Date: 10th century

Culture: Korea

Medium: Gilt bronze

Dimensions: Finial: L. 15 1/2 in. (39.4 cm); H. 11 3/4 in. (29.8 cm); W. 9 in. (22.9 cm); Chime: H. 15 1/4 in. (38.7 cm); W. 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift, 1999 Benefit Fund, and The Rosenkranz Foundation Inc. Gift, 1999

Accession Number: 1999.263a, b

Description

This finial in the shape of a dragon’s head would originally have been attached to a corner rafter of a royal hall or a Buddhist temple building (see, for example, the photograph to the left of a model pagoda that replicates a full-size wood structure from the Goryeo dynasty).

The beast’s bulging eyes, flaring nostrils, and elaborate scales convey the fierceness and invincibility of this auspicious creature. The small holes at the sides of the neck were probably used to secure the heavy object to the roof. The bell, which functioned as a wind chime, once had a metal-plate clapper inside. The bell would have been suspended from the loop at the mouth of the dragon by a hook. The decorative panels on the lower halves of both faces of the bell feature a swastika (an ancient symbol associated with the Buddha) within a lotus-flower platform. A nearly identical set of a dragon’s head and wind chime, the only other comparable extant example, is in the collection of the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul.

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