Chinese, Northern Wei, Dragon, ca. 5th- 6th century, Earthenware with traces of polychromy; 31.5 x 33 x 15 cm (12 3/8 x 13 x 5 7/8 inches), Museum Appropriation Fund 30.005
In China, mortuary ceramics were being made as early as the Han dynasty (206 BCE — 220 CE). This dragon was probably intended as a guardian figure to protect the deceased in his next life. It is difficult to date this exceptional piece. RISD’s dragon has attributes related to tomb guardians excavated in northern China of the Northern and Southern Dynasties Period (386 — 589), but no example found thus far in an archaeological context is truly similar. Dragons were thought to dwell in the heavens and bring rain for a good harvest. They were benevolent and powerful symbols of fertility and, additionally, of the emperor. This menacing beast with raised head and mouth open, as if to strike, fulfills its protective role.