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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Guyuan Sarcophagus: Motifs and explication
by Bradford, Rosalind E., Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2009, 1061; 3363696
Abstract (Summary)

The fragments of painted lacquer which had covered a coffin and also bronze pushou were discovered in a tomb in Leizumiao Village, Guyuan (originally Gaoping, later Yuaanzhou), Ningxia, in 1981. Due to the close resemblance to the lacquer remains in a number of recently excavated fifth century Northern Wei tombs in Datong (Pingcheng), Shanxi, and the undeveloped nature of Gaoping before the sixth century, it is proposed that the "Guyuan Sarcophagus" was made in Pingcheng and transported to be used in Gaoping.

The sarcophagus is covered with an intricate array of motifs. Compared to the remains of the Zhou Dynasty (ca. 1045-221 BCE), a great, and sudden, change can be seen in the artifacts of the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE). Han sources and some earlier ones explain much of the decoration on the Guyuan Sarcophagus. If no sign of the development of a motif had previously appeared, it is presumed that it may have entered China via the Silk Route which was coming into use in the Han and continued to grow thenceforth.

Thus, a number of the motifs on the Guyuan Sarcophagus are traced to various regions of Eurasia. Included in these are vine scrolls from the Mediterranean, merlons from Iran, flaming shoulders and pearl roundels from Gandhāra, human-headed birds from Egypt, and the Sogdian ceremony of Nowruz.

Other motifs were very much in the Chinese tradition including filial piety scenes, Xiwangmu and Dongwangfu, and the Heavenly River. These were combined on the same coffin with undeniably Buddhist figures and elements of the Sogdian Nowruz. All the above leads to speculation about the beliefs of the occupant and the possibility that the artist adhered more to traditional Han beliefs than did he. The occupant' s ultimate posthumous fate remains unknown.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman
School: University of Pennsylvania
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 70/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, History, Art history
Keywords: Buddhist art, China, Gandhara, Guyuan Sarcophagus, Iran, Native Chinese religion, Northern Wei, Pingcheng period
Publication Number: 3363696
ISBN: 978-1-109-23212-7
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