Head of a Lion

  • Excavated from the area beneath the Huoshaodong Cave
  • Northern Wei dynasty
  • Limestone
  • H-11
    Longmen Caves Research Institute
Catalogue Entry

Limestone/ Excavated from the area beneath the Huoshaodong Cave,
Northern Wei dynasty/ H. 12.1 cm; W. 21.5 cm; T. 5.3 cm/
Longmen Caves Research Institute
This sculptural fragment was excavated in 1988, during the repair of the visitor steps beneath the Huoshaodong Cave. It is not certain whether this sculpture was originally part of the Huoshaodong Cave. This head of a lion has fearsome eyes and its fangs protrude from a twisted mouth. Its overall visual power is further heightened by the fact that relief carving limitations meant that the left side of the head had to be skewed into a two-dimensional representation. While this lion head has some points in common with the realistic handling of lions in the Liushidong Cave, said to have been carved during the Emperor Xiaoming reign (515-527), this lion is even more realistic in expression.The Yongningsi Temple during the Northern Wei Dynasty (see p. 30)In Taihe 18 (494) the 28-year old Emperor Xiaowen moved the capital of the Northern Wei dynasty to Luoyang from Pingcheng (Datong), the capital for the preceding 100 years. There was a great deal of resistance to the transfer of the capital to Luoyang, which was a long way from the home of Xianbei Tuoba people, but the wise emperor, cultured in a Chinese fashion, carefully proceeded with his plans.
There were also plans to move the 7-story pagoda of the Yongningsi Temple from Pingcheng to Luoyang, and finally a 9-story pagoda―two stories taller than the Pingcheng pagoda―was completed in Shengui 2 (519) in Luoyang. Unfortunately this 9-story pagoda was struck by lightning in Yongxi 3 (534), burned to the ground, and was never rebuilt. A series of three excavations were carried out at the site of this pagoda from 1979 through 2001, and along with providing a great deal of information about the Yongningsi Temple, these excavations unearthed a large number of plaster fragments. Some of those fragments have clear traces on them indicating that they had been in a fire. While small works, they vividly convey the high artistic standards that were in force during the period from when the Yongningsi pagoda was built.