[Dragon Tile Ceiling]
Mid 18th century
67 painted wood tiles, approx. 17” square that form a ceiling artwork of dragons done in brown, green, red and gold metallic paint. The dragon tiles, individually, are about 16.25" by 17" [41.2 cm x 43.2cm]. All together they are about 125 square feet [11.6 square meters]. In our photo reconstruction of the tile design, only 66 of the 67 tiles are pictured.
6 of the tiles form a single dragon, with tiles of varying degrees of intricacy that likely surrounded it. Outside of the tiles comprising the main figure, there are three basic levels of production with minor variations. The simplest dragon is brown with touches of red and empty claws, in the next level up the dragon has more red and is holding an object in its claws, while the highest level of design has lighter, more subtle green coloring and significantly more detail in the scales and facial expression. They also are arranged in different postures; facing to the left in all but the most ornate, and circular in form in the two higher levels. A number of the dragons, including the central figure, are holding a round disk with a hole or dark center, which is done in gold pigment in the main dragon. Dragons in East Asia may be depicted with an orb, though one of the objects more closely resembles a dish, Japanese or Chinese coin with a hole in the center, or a Chinese Bi disc. A second object held in the claws of more elaborate dragons has an urn-like shape with a finial top.
The reverse of some of the tiles have a number or hiragana symbol, perhaps indicating its placement in the design. The tiles in our photo were arranged after looking at many examples of dragon ceilings in Japanese shrines and temples. It appears that the tiles were constructed to fit into a coffered ceiling (gōtenjyō 格天井) in a building that was constructed in the Shoin-zukuri style. This type of ceiling allowed space to slide the tiles between the square cut lattice that is particular to this style.
Japanese dragon art can be seen throughout Japan, especially as statues, on screens and in ceiling paintings in Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples. The Japanese dragon is similar to other Asian dragons and is usually depicted with a long curved body, round bulging eyes, scales, horns and claws. The quickest way to pinpoint a Japanese dragon is by looking at its claws. Chinese dragon art depicts them with five claws, Korean dragons with four, while Japanese dragons are drawn with three.
Typically in Buddhist temples only a single dragon is depicted, as protector of Buddhist canon, while Shinto shrines may depict multiple dragon images. This ceiling, comprised of a large, 6-tile central dragon, surrounded by 62 individual dragons, would have presented a visual impact of great power.
Depicted often, as here, as a fierce and terrifying creature, dragons in Japan are a symbol of strength and protection. Their spiritual presence and protection extends to good luck and wealth, and dragons in general are usually thought of as a positive image to be revered, as opposed to the Western tradition of a dragon as an aggressive beast that must be slain.
Although a creature of the air, depicted with or without wings, dragons are associated with water, likely through the Chinese legend known in Japan as “Koi no Takinobori” (Carp Climbing the Waterfall), a tale of a dragon that swims up a waterfall and turns into a carp.
Dust soiling and grime of many years, fading, checking with splitting and cracking to tiles.
Price Upon Request.