Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information




Asian art

View More:


Tomb tile with decoration of a feathered man and a dragon,

5th century-6th century


Unknown Artist


A 'Yu Ren' (feathered man) with a pair of wings and large ears beckons a running dragon with split deer-like antlers, baring its teeth and fixing its gaze on the ladle held in the man's left hand. This brick is an example of tomb decorations depicting Daoist themes of immortality that began during the Warring States period (475 -221 BC) and remained very popular in burial practices until the 6th century AD. The dragon motif not only indicates the direction of East, but also serves as auspicious animal with its power to suppress evil and assist the deceased to reach paradise.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, January 2012

These tiles ( EC24.1962 & EC25.1962) are examples of tiles used to line the walls of funerary chambers. The decoration on such tiles was usually mould-impressed, incised, and finished by hand. The subjects of these tiles represent two of the animals of the four directions, namely the Green Dragon of the East and the White Tiger of the West, each fighting off an aggressive figure. The other two animals in Han cosmology of the four directions are the Red Bird of the South and the Black Warrior (a tortoise entwined with a snake) of the North. These four animals occur frequently in Han cosmic diagrams and are each associated with specific elements, colours and seasons.

Many regional styles of Han pictorial art have been established since archaeological excavation of Han sites has been underway. Clearly the energetic and naturalistic rendering of the pictorial designs on these tiles is different from the formal silhouette style of the Wu shrines in Shantung (Shandong) province in the north-east. These are stylistically related to the free and vigorous style of the famous Han reliefs from Nanyang in Henan province, further to the south. It appears that in the period between the Han and Tang dynasties the majority of tomb figures were unglazed grey earthenware, painted in unfired pigments. In the Sui and Tang dynasty, however, with the advent of polychrome ware, both glazed and unglazed figures are found side by side in tombs (Medley, M., T'ang Pottery and Porcelain, London, Faber and Faber, 1981. p. 45).

Both scenes have a longitudinal axis. In both the figure on the right has stepped out of the frame surrounding the scene. This gives him the appearance of moving forward from the plane of the picture and creates an illusion of three-dimensional space. One combat scene appears realistic, the other imaginary. There were imperial zoos in Han China at which animal fights were held for the amusement of the aristocracy and it is possible then the artist may have received inspiration from similar spectacles that continued after the Han dynasty.

Jackie Menzies, 'Early Chinese Art', AGNSW, 1983. XXII.


Place where the work was made



5th century-6th century

Media category


Materials used

earthenware, unglazed


16.6 x 42.0 cm


Gift of Mr Sydney Cooper 1962


Not on display

Accession number



Where the work was made

Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Jackie Menzies, Early Chinese Art, Sydney, 1983, (illus.) not paginated. XXII. See 'Further Information' for text.