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Molded Tile of a Celestial Dancer on Lucite Stand
Item No. 3997

Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368), N/A, China
12.75" x 11.25" x 3.75"
( 32.385 x 28.575 x 9.525 cm)
(H x W x D)

The Literati in China built vast estates with sumptuous gardens, lakes and grottoes. The interest of the Chinese in creating these estates and devoting large areas to such pursuits can be traced back to the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) when, as Robert Mowry writes, "Chinese connoisseurs began using large stones to decorate their gardens and courtyards. There are also references to the special qualities of garden rocks and individual stones in poems dating as far back as the Tang dynasty (618-907). Scholars' Rocks is the most common English name given to the small, individual stones that have been appreciated by educated and artistic Chinese at least since the Song dynasty (960-1270). They evolved from appreciation of the larger garden rocks, but their smaller size enabled the Chinese literati to carry them indoors where they could be admired and meditated over in their sparse studios.

Scholar's Rocks (or Gongshi) began as stones that resembled or represented mythological and famous mountains, or even whole mountain ranges in China. Some are also appreciated simply for their dramatic form, their wondrous colors, or feelings they evoke from the viewer. Gongshi evolved from Chinese garden stones, which vary in height up to 5 or 6 feet. Some Chinese literati and Taoist monks wanted to bring these mountains into their studios for meditation and contemplation while they wrote or painted. So smaller stones with the same qualities were found and initially received as gifts. They gained great favor among the literati and the Imperial court and have remained popular for over 1,000 years."

"The earliest garden displays of rocks occurred during the Han dynasty and were most likely representative of the fanciful paradises known as Penglai, or the Eastern Isle of the Immortals. These paradises were actually perceived to be three or more mountains isolated in the Eastern Sea. The mountains were tall with "craggy, inaccessible peaks" and isolated - even from each other. Since the immortals could fly from one to another, they could easily carry on social commerce among themselves, however, to mere mortals these paradise isles were completely inaccessible. In Chinese paintings these gods are often depicted as cranes flying to or between the tall mountains."

This desire to create models of Penglai were probbly, much later, combined with ideas from Chinese landscape design, garden design and the wish for the inclusion of lakes and grottoes to construct vast areas of Literati estates dedicated to the contemplation of nature in all its forms. It was seen as an aid in the creation of Literati works, as a sort of muse which aided the literati to write poetry, create paintings and more.

Molded stoneware tiles such as these were used to decorate these settings. Many tiles were decorated with Buddhist themes of celestial dancers, musicians, and mythological beasts. This tile represents a celestial dancer. These dancers were portrayed as graceful, lively and spiritual beings in various versions, with most playing musical instruments and painted in lovely poses in paintings, decorating pottery, on the panels of temple interiors, and temple ceilings. The figure is set within a decorative graceful molded frame which adds to the lyrical quality of the piece.


Robert Mowry, "A Brief History of Scholar's Rocks," on

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