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Winged Dragon

450 BCE-250 BCE

An exceptional creation, this sculpture represents an extraordinarily powerful winged dragon. With muscular legs and clawed feet, its dynamic body is poised to leap forward. This masterpiece is an almost unique work of monumental animal sculpture from the Chinese pre-imperial period. Although its precise function is unknown, it is probably from Yan Xiadu, a capital city of Yan during the period of the Warring States (475−221 BCE). It may have been a decorative element in a palace or tomb. By virtue of its geographical location, the state of Yan was long in close contact with the peoples of the steppes, who were very active along the northern borders. The development of realistic zoomorphic representations in China owes a great deal to the influence of the art of the semi-nomadic peoples of Central Asia, whose deep and age-old knowledge of the animal world accounts for their taste and talent for combining unfettered imagination with anatomical precision in images of creatures. Even though the winged dragon was produced in the Middle Kingdom, its aesthetic universe appears to have a distant kinship with certain Near Eastern representations, such as the frieze of griffins on the palace of Darius the Great (521−486 BCE) in Susa, created over a century earlier and also connected with the art of the steppes.
A mythic beast of good fortune associated with fertility and the East, the dragon was accorded paramount importance for centuries in China and Chinese symbolism. Entirely Chinese in its iconography, this winged dragon is a hybrid made up of various animals, with the hindquarters of a feline, the forequarters of an alligator, the antlers of a stag and the wings of a bird. Exceptionally large for an archaeological item of this period, it is also the largest freestanding sculpture of a dragon known to date in Chinese art.
Very few works compare with this in terms of dynamism, monumentality and aesthetic quality. The unique character of the winged dragon gives it an exceptional place and importance in the history of art. Its longstanding fame is due both to its aesthetic accomplishment and to the renown of its owner Adolphe Stoclet (1871−1949), who regarded it as one of the jewels of his collection. It would occupy a place of honour on a desk in the Palais Stoclet in Brussels for nearly a century.

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi/ Photo: Mohamed Somji/ Seeing Things

Artwork Details

Title: Winged Dragon
Geography: Northern China
Date: 450 BCE-250 BCE

Medium: bronze

Classification: sculpture
Dimensions: 48.5 x 67 cm
Inventory number: LAD 2017.001
Contact for images: images@louvreabudhabi.ae

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