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Asian Art
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Frontal Base of a Funerary Couch

6th century

Dark gray stone, extensive remains of red, black, and white pigments

76 1/2 in. (194.3 cm)
15 5/8 × 76 1/2 × 5 in. (39.688 × 194.31 × 12.7 cm)
Gift of the Rubin-Ladd Foundation under the bequest of Ester R. Portnow

Stone mortuary couches appeared in tombs in northern China during the fifth and sixth centuries. The function of these couches is not entirely clear; they may have been couches designed to support a coffin (guan chuang) or to serve the spirit of the deceased when it periodically revisited the tomb. This is the frontal base of such a couch. Protective creatures are found on each of the three legs: the head of a fantastic beast with bulging eyes and curly mane carved in high relief appears in the center, while two guardian beasts seated in landscape settings appear on the two outer supports. The horizontal area above the legs is decorated with nine mythical beasts and monsters carved in low relief below a border of lotus-petal lappets. The presence of the lotus decoration, which came with Buddhism to China, reflects the pervasiveness of Buddhism in Chinese society by the early sixth century.

Not on view
Northern Dynasties (386–581 C.E.), 6th century

J.J. Lally & Company, New York; The Rubin-Ladd Foundation, Georgetown, Conn. and New York; gift in 2000 to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


Susan Bush, “Thunder Monsters and Wind Spirits in Early Sixth Century China and the Epitaph Tablet of Lady Yuan,” Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts 72, no. 367 (1974): 25–55.

Susan Bush, “Thunder Monsters, Auspicious Animals, and Floral Ornaments in Early Sixth Century China,” Ars Orientalis 10 (1975): 19–34.

Elinor Pearlstein, “Pictorial Stones from Chinese Tombs,” Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art 71, no. 9 (November 1984): 302–31.

Early Dynastic China: Works of Art from Shang to Song, exh. cat. (New York: J.J. Lally & Company, 1996), no. 12.

Gilles Beguin, “A propos du Gang du Musée Cernuschi,” Collections parisiennes: bulletin des conservateurs et des personnels scientifiques de la Ville de Paris no. 4 (1998): 17–21, fig. 2.

Art for Yale: Collecting for a New Century, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2007), 128–29, 373, pl. 120, fig. 1 (detail).

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.