This nineteenth-century Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) embroidery is a detail of the pearl of wisdom, also known as the pearl of the dragon. This detail is similar to larger images that adorned royal robes, featuring a dragon.
A pearl has a mystical association with dragons in the traditions of China, India and Japan. There are different legends. Some associate a fiery pearl with the sun. When there are jagged red lines with the pearl, the lines may represent thunder and the dragons, clouds. A blue pearl is associated with a full moon. When there is a comma like attachment underneath the pearl, the interpretation is yang (dragons) and yin, male and female.
One interpretation of a pair of dragons chasing a pearl is decorative and descriptive. This interpretation is that they are playing with the pearl, as one traditional design pattern for carving jade is “A dragon frolicking with a pearl.”
However, the enduring popularity of the dragons and pearl also has a deeper appeal, based on early Taoism and Buddhism.
The flaming pearl is a symbol of good luck, prosperity, and wisdom. In Buddhism, a pearl is considered the jewel of the lotus,
standing for a spiritual wealth based on the virtues of wisdom and compassion. This interprets the dragons, by legend supernaturally wise,
chasing the pearl as the search for truth.
In Chinese Buddhism, Kwan Yin (Guanyin or Kuan Yin) is synonymous with the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who is a pinnacle of mercy, compassion, kindness and love. A Bodhisattva is a being of enlightenment or “bodhi,” one who has earned the state to leave the world of suffering and destined to become a Buddha. Rather than enter the bliss of nirvana, they vow to remain in order to save humanity.
Kwan Yin's veneration was introduced into China around the 1st century CE. The Bodhisattva is represented
prior to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) as masculine. Images later appear either male or female, as a Bodhisattva
could appear in which ever form is needed to relieve suffering. The association with the seventh century Buddhist
saint Miao Shan in the 12th century furthered the appearance as female. By the modern period, Guan Yin is usually
shown as a white-robed woman.
Here is the Thousand Armed Kwan Yin with a thousand eyes. The name is also spelled Guan Yin, Kuan Yin, and similar variations. The translation for this Goddess of Mercy is " She Who Sees and Hears the Cries of the World." In this iconography, the many eyes assist her with seeing the needs of many and the many arms in order to help the needy.
According to legend, these were provided to her by Amitabha Buddha, to address her difficulty in comprehending all the
suffering. Then when two arms were insufficient, with a thousand arms to help the multitude. The character on the back
is "Buddha." Underneath the figure is carved the dancing dragons with the pearl.
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The bronze vessels of ancient China are widely considered the finest bronze objects ever made. They were extremely important in Bronze Age China. It was through the offerings made inside them that the shamans communicated with the ancestors and the deities. (F. Lanier Graham)
This is a replica of a bronze "you" vessel used to hold liquids for ritual sacrifice, in the form of a
tiger with a human head in its jaws. In Chinese tradition, the Tiger is a totemic animal that symbolizes
protection. Some interpret the Tiger to be the medium through which the Shaman or Necromancer communicates
with Heaven. An explanation of the tiger-human theme from Gilles Béguin, Arts de l’Asie au Musée Cernuschi is:
"It may be related to a tradition recorded in the Zuozhuan, an ancient commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals
(8th-5th centuries BC), which describes how the grandson of Ruoao, from the kingdom of Chu, by the name of Ziwen,
was adopted and fed by a tigress when he was a child."
This form of a covered ritual vessel is called a "gong." Each seems to have been shaped for a particular
purpose, a purpose relating to the kind of sacrifice being made and the animal spirit to which the
sacrifice was being made. Sometimes, as in this case, the intended animal may well have been the
totem animal of a tribal group. Rhinos, like elephants, ran wild in Bronze Age China. Now, like the
elephant, there are none, except in captivity. For many centuries, the main type of Chinese military
armor was Rhino hide. (F. Lanier Graham)
The owl is one of the traditional shapes of bronze ritual vessels used during the Shang
Dynasty and the Chou Dynasty. It was the most important bird in their iconography. In
many shamanic traditions the owl represents wisdom. Greek mythology, for example, continued
that tradition in the form of Athena to whom the owl was sacred, but Chinese mythology did not.
Many times, the owl appears in ancient Chinese art in association with death. Professor Hugo
Munsterberg in his Symbolism in Ancient Chinese Art thinks the owl was "the protector of the
beloved dead in the darkness of the grave." Later, Chinese mythology gave the owl a negative
meaning. The owl became a fearsome creature whose cry is still thought to be the harbinger of
death. Typically used to hold a fermented ritual beverage.
Before the spirit of Buddhist sculpture began to diminish, there was a striking change in the image of Kwan Yin. The Buddhist deity of Mercy and Compassion in India was a male figure named Avalokitesvara. When he came to China, he gradually merged with the traditional Taoist Mother Goddess, Kwan Yin. His gender eventually changed from male to female.
During the transitional period (from the 10th through the 13th centuries) the Kwan Yin figures are
androgynous. Since the Sung Dynasty, almost all Kwan Yin statues in China have been female. Since the
Ming Dynasty (14th-17th century), the classic statues of Kwan Yin, more graceful than any human could
ever be, and worshipped by Buddhists and Taoists, have been made of pure white porcelain. She is now
dwelling in millions of homes in this form. (F. Lanier Graham)
Bi (formerly “pi”) discs are flat circular jade objects with a hole at its center.
The geometric pieces are from the Liangzhu society west of what is now Shanghai. They
seem to have flourished between 5000 BCE and 2500 BCE. The Bi and the cong are the two
most important of these sacred geometric shapes, which were designed to be buried with
the bodies of the departed. This burial ritual continued through the Bronze Age.
These discs were placed under and on top of the bodies. At first they were undecorated.
Then they became richly decorated with various symbols including the mysterious “taotie”
monster mask. Modern scholars debate the meaning of these objects. However, the surviving
esoteric Taoist tradition explains that the “nothingness” at the center of the bi and
the cong is the path that spirit takes from the earthly world to the heavenly world. (F. Lanier Graham)
Cong (formerly called a "T'sung") red and white jade. When looked at from above or below the distinctive shape of the traditional Cong is a circle-in-a-square, a form which has continued to symbolize the unity of Heaven and Earth in China and a round the world. The Cong is the oldest known form of the classic mandala symbol. Similar objects are found from the Late Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture, ca.3300-2200 B.C.E.
The Cong is a vessel that holds nothing, or perhaps more accurately, it contains "nothingness."
They were placed around the body. At first, these ritual objects also were undecorated, but
became richly decorated with symbolic shapes and faces. Modern scholars are unsure of the
meaning of these objects. However, the surviving esoteric Taoist tradition explains that the
"nothingness" at the center of the bi and the cong is the path that spirit takes from the
earthly world to the heavenly world. The cong were made in many sizes, apparently depending
on the wealth of the deceased. The objects in this exhibition represent the known range of
sizes, from the tiny to the monumental. They are all made of sacred jade. Research on the
exact dates for all of the Early Chinese pieces is an ongoing curatorial process. (F. Lanier Graham)
Whether ancient or modem, this figure contains much of the spirit we know was at the
heart of Hongshan sacred art - a dramatic shamanic fusion of human-ness and animal-ness.
Bats are still "Good Luck" in China.
Here the right half of Lord Shiva is joined with the left half of his consort Parvati to form an androgynous figure. This form is Ardhanarishvara, meaning “Lord who is half-woman,” although sometimes described as "half-women/half lord." These figures first appeared in India in the first century CE. Ellen Goldberg examines 17 versions with different variations that include bending and straight postures, a varied number of arms, and different objects (battle axe, trident, drum, mirror, parrot, lotus).
This South Indian Chola style Ardhanarishvara, found in the ninth century, is not exactly equal. The male half has greater power, as there are two right arms instead of one, and one is holding a parasu, Shiva’s battle axe. The figure is in a tribhanga posture with three bends, head to the left, torso to the right, and right leg bent. At the center of the forehead is the third eye, a mark of divine wisdom, although an alternative interpretation is that the mark represents a divine energy associated with the “universal mother.”
These images, both enduring and reinterpreted over centuries in art, combine male and female
characteristics and aspects, capturing the joining of opposites, and expressing the non-dual
nature of divinity.
Sources: Neeta Yadav, Ardhanarisvara in Art and Literature, 2001; Ellen Goldberg, The Lord Who Is Half Woman: Ardhanarisvara in Indian and Feminist Perspective, 2002.View In Catalog
This iconic image of Shiva may well be the best-known image in all of Indian art.
It is called Shiva Nataraja Lord of the Dance. Variations of this basic composition
were first made during the Chola Dynasty in southern India during the 11th and 12th
centuries. Shiva dances with dynamic grace standing on a personification of egotistical
ignorance. Around him is the universe as a whole a flaming circle that represents the
glowing globe of the material world. In his right hand is a rattle drum. Its sound
activates each moment of time. In his left hand is the flame that burns up each
moment at the end of its time. The core concept is that Shiva is doing an endless
dance of creation and destruction and re-creation again and again and again. This
particular bronze was cast in the 19th or early 20th century but was very well done
and has a good deal of the character of the earlier bronzes. This sculpture was done
in the 12th century Chola style. (F. Lanier Graham)
Additional information: The Metropolitan Museum of ArtView In Catalog
Indra, the Vedic "King of the Gods, Lord of Rain, Holder of the Thunderbolt," is
celebrated more often than any other deity in the ancient Rigveda. He is represented
here by a luminous example of one of the most famous plastic forms in the sacred art of
Hinduism. This general image of Indra was taking shape in Nepal by the 10th century, and was
given this particular iconic form in Nepal during the 12th and 13th centuries. He wears a royal
crown or tiara and sits in a relaxed pose. The exceptionally high quality of Nepali craftsmanship
has been admired throughout Asia for many centuries. The traditions of Hinduism and sacred
craftsmanship are still alive in Nepal where Hindus and Buddhists dwell peacefully side-by-side.
This statue was made in Nepal, a few years ago by a devout Hindu artist, in the traditional style.
It was commissioned by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, which supports the continuing sculptural
tradition of Nepal. (F. Lanier Graham)
Nagas are serpent-like spirits who live in water. Serpent cults date back to the earliest Indus Valley civilizations around 2500 BCE. Stories about nagas appear frequently in Asian mythologies and religions. In Sanskrit, "nag" is the word for cobra and is sometimes used in a general way for snakes or serpents.
Nagas play multiple roles, usually as guardians of treasure and connected to rain. Their powers can be absorbed by other deities, witnessed by the cobra wrapped around the arm in the Shiva Nataraja, Chola style image. Sometimes they offer their help, as with Mucilanda, a Naga king, protecting the Buddha from a torrential storm. Naga sometimes symbolizes the energy of kundalini.
In Hindu mythology, Naga kanya is considered either the queen or the name for the group of
these serpentine spirits. She appears as half human and half serpent. Here five cobras rise
behind her, along with her wings. She holds a conch shell that is a treasure of wisdom. By
legend, she was created at the same time as Garudas, who are enemies. In Tibetan Buddhism,
garudas are placed one level higher than nagas.
A head of a terracotta female figurine found at the Mehrgarh site in
the Indus Valley in modern Pakistan. The archeological site shows human
activity in Neolithicic times, proof of early agrarian activity in South
Asia at the foot of the Indus-Sarasvati or Harappan civilization. The
earliest figurines found at this site are female, crafted with various
headdresses, and sometimes holding an infant and sometimes depicted with
large hips. While assumed to represent either a fertility goddess or a
mother goddess, recent scholars such as Carla M. Sinopoli, caution against
this interpretation. The star appears to be a headdress. Male figurines
begin to appear later in this culture, showing genitalia and often wearing a
turban. Sinopoli observes that the appearance of male figurines may mean a
change in the culture's view of gender.
Resources: Live History India; Human Journey; https://www.harappa.com/; Carla M. Sinopoli, "Gender and Archeology in South and Southwest Asia," World of Gender:The Archeology of Women's Lives Around the Globe (2007) 73-96.View In Catalog
The Naga (cobra) rising above a lingham, a symbol of Shiva and maleness, which rests on a yoni,
the symbol for Shakti and the womb. These two images represent the merging of energies and forces,
such as creation and regeneration, as well as masculine and feminine. The cobra references Shiva and
the energy in kundalini. These symbols are common within Shaivism, one of the major traditions within
Hinduism focused on Shiva.
This archaic altar is based on the Greco-Buddhist style of the Gandhara region in Northwest India. These were brought to China by Indian monks teaching Buddhism. The archaic Chinese statues have very solid figures and beatific smiles, not unlike archaic Greek statues. Many of these characteristics continued during the politically divided era of the Six Dynasties (3rd to 6th centuries CE), and into the Tang Dynasty. (F. Lanier Graham)
This is the Future Buddha Maitreya on an altar. He stands on a lotus base, suggesting that he is in heaven.
The Buddha Shakyamuni is on earth and either sits or stands on a simple throne. The right hand is raised in
the abhaya mudra, a gesture of protection and reassurance. The left hand holds a flask of water. Maitreya, a
Boddhisatva, was popular in Chinese Buddhism as no relics were associated with him.
This Naga Buddha consists of two pieces: Cobra in the form of the Bodhi tree and the
Buddha figure. The word “naga” is Sanskrit for cobra. In a Buddhist tradition, the
snake that shelters the Buddha is named Mucilanda. While the Buddha was meditating,
a great storm appears. Mucilanda, the king of serpents, emerges to protect the Buddha,
who is the protector of everyone. When the storm stops, the snake assumes a human form,
bows to the Buddha and returns to his home. This particular representation is found in
Burma, Laos and Thailand.
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Garudas appear in many forms in Tibetan art, but they are most commonly depicted with the upper torso and arms of a man and the head, beak, and legs of a bird. Garuda is man bird, an enlightened deity for removing afflictions caused by nagas and earth spirits. In the Buddhist Pantheon, he may serve as the vehicle for Amoghsiddhi. He is almost always represented as human, except for large wings, which fold out from his shoulders.
According to his biography, the 8th century Buddhist mystic Padmasambhava
introduced the phurba to Tibet, where it is used to ceremonially to remove
the obstacle of duality, as well as in exorcisms. He wielded one when he
founded the first Tibetan monastery in Samye.
The elephant-headed deity of wisdom, Ganesha is associated with
the removal of obstacles. Although his origins in Tibet go back
to traders from India, the Ganesha of Buddhism has little in
common with the god worshiped by Hindus. The phurpa is described
as a "sky dagger," a powerful tool used to symbolically destroy
obstacles to one's practice.
The four-armed Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara, sits in meditation, his folded hands symbolizing the meeting of wisdom and compassion. In Nepal, where he is very popular, there are at least 108 forms of him.
Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezi in Tibetan) is the Lord of Compassion and primary Patron
Deity of Tibet when regarded as a deity. He is also regarded as a Bodhisattva. That
term has several meanings. At first it referred to earlier incarnations of the
Buddha but now means one who has reached a certain degree of Enlightenment and
could move on to Nirvana but has chosen to remain on earth to help everyone
attain Buddhahood. The term also means an embodied aspect of Buddhahood.
Chenrezi manifests that aspect of Buddha which usually is called compassion.
As Buddha is the Lord of Infinite Light and Unqualified Love- Chenrezi is
the Lord of Qualified Light the Light of the Sun and Moon- the Light of
Space and Time- in other words love in a relationship. The purpose of his
multiple arms (and sometimes multiple heads) is to reach all who suffer.
It is said that his partner Tara was born from a tear of compassion that fell from his eye. (F. Lanier Graham)
This is one of the earliest books in Hebrew printed in Frankfurt an der Oder.
Johann Hartmann (1537-1607) founded the printing firm in 1585. Together with his
son Friedrich (b.1563), he printed the Hebrew Bible in three parts: Part 1, Pentateuch,
Five Scrolls, and Former Prophets; Part 2, Latter Prophets; Part 3, Writings. The parts
are separated by title pages that use an architectural frame first used in the Wittenberg
Hebrew Bible of 1586. Zacharias Crato, the Wittenberg publisher, was hired to cast new Hebrew
letters with vowels. Frankfurt (Oder) became a center for Hebrew publishing by the end of the
17th century. GTU only has the first of the two volumes. Originally from the library of Enoch
Pond, 1791-1882, a noted Congregational minister and writer, donated by his son.
Many protective practices evolved to carefully store and handle the Torah scroll (in Hebrew, Sefer Torah, פר תורה). Written by hand by Jewish scribes (sofer), the Torah scroll contains the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, which contains the law and stories about the Jews. Stored in the Torah ark, the holiest place in the synagogue, the scroll is brought out for ritual Torah readings and Jewish prayers. In most traditions, a cloth cover called “Mantle of Life” is wrapped around the Torah scroll.
This Torah cover is blue velvet lined with satin, hand-stitched, in a trapezoidal shape with an overlapping
opening at its rear. At its top is a wood or leather surface with two holes to go over the top of the scroll
rolls. On its front is a raised beaded and embroidered image of the Eternal Light (Ner Tamid). The Ner Tamid
symbolizes the lamp that burns perpetually near the Ark in each synagogue, a reminder of the presence of God
and of the lamp that burned in the Temple of Jerusalem.
The Liber Chronicarum (or Nuremberg Chronicle) by Hartmann Schedel printed in Nuremberg by
Anton Korberger in 1493, is one of the most extensively illustrated books of the 15th century.
The text written in Latin by Nuremberg physician and humanist Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514)
provides a history of the Christian world through the 15th century. The woodcuts on this page
have been attributed to Albert Durer, godson of Korberger and an apprentice to the printing house,
which some scholars accept and others question, as the dates of production may have made this unlikely.
This undated bronze Corpus Christi figure is in a style popularized by the Flemish
painter Giambologna (1529-1608). He worked in Italy and was best known for his
depictions of Christ on the cross. On this figure, the loincloth drapes to Christ's
left; his head, looks up; and his arms are outstretched. This form is called Cristo vivo,
as opposed to Christ on the cross after he has died, with his head down, Cristo morto.
The piece was acquired in Assisi, Italy.
Byzantine bronze follis from the reign of Justinian I, who ruled from 527 to 565.
In Justinian's hand is a cross on a globe (globus cruciger), that came to be interpreted
as showing the triumph of Christianity over the empire, an image that first appears on
Roman coinage with Theodosius I (346-395). On the reverse, the M indicates the value of
the coin (40 nummi), the letter B indicates the workshop, the letters KYZ indicate the
Cyzicus mint, the word ANNO is on the left and on the right is the lettering for the
regnal year 15 (536-7). Justinian the Great, restored the empire to some of its
former glory. Among his accomplishments were recovery of much lost territory,
reform of Roman law (the Justinian code), promoting one faith in the empire,
and building projects such as the Hagía Sophía.
A Byzantine bronze follis with a full-length Christ with nimbus halo,
holding the Gospel on the obverse and Constantine X Ducas and his second
wife Eudocia on reverse holding the labarum. The labarum is the military
standard with two letters indicating the name of Christ according to the
initial characters, the letter P [rho] being intersected by an X [chi] at the center.
The legend on the obverse is + EMMA – NOVHA/ IC -XC (God with us/Jesus Christ) and on
the reverse is UDK AUGO - + KwN (Constantine Depot of Empress Eudocia). Constantine X
Ducas ruled from 1059 to 1067 CE. This is the only follis with the pair.
Thomas Cole began the Hudson River School of landscape painting and was one of the most admired artists in mid-19th century America. This engraving is from his famous series of prints engraved by James Smilie, a leading etching master. (FLG)
While primarily a landscape artist, Cole (1801-1848) spent considerable time on this religious allegory. He painted two sets of this series of four images showing the religious journey of Everyman through the River of Life: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age. The second set was to assure his own access to the paintings. After his death, these paintings were engraved, and the prints became very popular during the Third Great Awakening in America, which started in the late 1850s and extended to the early 20th century.
Cole's writing on The Voyage of Life: Childhood:
A stream is seen issuing from a deep cavern, in the side of a craggy and precipitous mountain, whose summit is hidden in clouds. From out the cave glides a Boat, whose golden prow and sides are sculptured into figures of the Hours: steered by an Angelic Form, and laden with buds and flowers, it bears a laughing Infant, the Voyager whose varied course the artist has attempted to delineate. On either hand the banks of the stream are clothed in luxuriant herbage and flowers. The rising sun bathes the mountains and the flowery banks in rosy light. The dark cavern is emblematic of our earthly origin, and the mysterious Past. The Boat, composed of Figures of the Hours, images the thought, that we are borne on the hours down the Stream of Life. The Boat identifies the subject in each picture. The rosy light of the morning, the luxuriant flowers and plants, are emblems of the joyousness of early life. The close banks, and the limited scope of the scene, indicate the narrow experience of Childhood, and the nature of its pleasures and desires. The Egyptian Lotus in the foreground of the picture is symbolical of Human Life. Joyousness and wonder are the characteristic emotions of childhood. (quoted from Franklin Kelly, et al., American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Collections of the National Gallery of Art, 1996, p 123 (read more)
To take a tour of each journey click here
The Dala’il al-Khayrat (Waymarks of Benefits) is a copy of the collection of prayers for the
Prophet Muhammad composed by Muhammad al-Jazuli (died 1465). The book is a popular medieval
composition of blessings on the Prophet Muhammad and has served as a Muslim prayer manual. This
manuscript from the Ottoman empire, includes views of the Holy Sanctuaries at Mecca and Medina, a
Turkish practice that became common with copies of this manuscript during the 18th century. Most
versions of the Dala’il al-Khayrat include either a copy or a schematic version of the Ka’ba and
the Holy Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s mosque in Medina.
Arabic script, one of the Semitic alphabets, developed as a form of reverence for the Qur’an and other Islamic sacred texts. These manuscripts were often bound within elegantly designed covers. Yael Rice explains:
Although the Qur’an is often characterized as a book, it is better understood as an orally proclaimed text. It is in this state that, according to Islamic tradition, the Qur’an was transmitted from God to the Prophet Muhammad (c. 570–632), via the Archangel Jibra’il (Gabriel). Muhammad received the revelations over a period of twenty-two years, and in two different locales (Mecca and Medina). When the Qur’anic text was compiled as a single corpus, following the Prophet’s passing, its 114 suras (chapters) were arranged not in chronological, geographical, or thematic order, but according to length. Barring the first sura (al-Fatiha, “the opening”), the Qur’an proceeds from the longest to the shortest sura. (Yael Rice, “The Qur’an Illuminated,” Marginalia: Los Angeles Review of Books, June 8, 2017. Read more)
Along with the tradition of calligraphy, printing was also used to share sacred texts. By the 10th century,
if not earlier, a form of block printing was used in order to more easily distribute prayers and sacred
writings on strips of paper. The first book in Arabic was printed in 1514 in Italy.
The subject of the painting is Shehab-ud-din Muhammed Khurran, also known as Shah Jahan ("king of the world"), who ruled Hindustan from 1628-1658. This is a modern painting in a traditional style.
Shah Jahan ruled at the height of the Mughal empire and is best known for his architectural endeavors, including the Taj Mahal, which he dedicated to his wife. In the painting, Shah Jahan wears a jeweled turban, pink trousers with a print of green leaves, and a diaphanous tunic with a jeweled belt. He holds a sword with a straight blade. The background is pale green and flowers grow at the shah's feet.
The painting is in the style of Kailesh Raj, who is part of a family of traditional painters from Jaipur and a master artist with apprentices. Raj is schooled in Jaipuri painting, which he learned from his family. He also studied Mughal painting.
Further explanation of Shah Jahan and Mughal painting here
Silver rupee of Shehab-ud-din Muhammed Khurran, also known as Shah Jahan ("king of the world"), who ruled Hindustan from 1628-1658 at the height of the Mughal empire. He is best known for his architectural endeavors, including the Taj Mahal, which he dedicated to his wife.
Each emperor approached coinage differently. Shah Jahan allowed the use of Islamic religious messages (Kalima) in the inscriptions on the obverse, along with the name of the mint and the Hijri date. On the reverse is the name and title of the ruler. His son, a more conservative Muslim, removed Islamic messages from coinage.
Mahesh A. Kalra, “A Brief History of the Mughal Empire Through Its Coins,”;
“The Coins of Shah Jahan,”
This image of the invocation Bismillah, “In the name of Allah.” is in the Tughra style. The statement is used at the beginning of each sura (except for one) in the Qur’an. As an invocation, it is often used at the beginning of any undertaking.
A tughra (Ottoman Turkish: طغرا, romanized: tuğrâ) is also a specific term for an insignia or seal uniquely created for each sultan in the Ottoman empire. Rather than a signature, this sign was drawn on official documents and coins. Many are elegant works of art.
While figurative images have been uncommonly used in Islam, forms of Arabic
calligraphy developed beautiful, inventive designs, occasionally in zoomorphic
This mask from the Mende or Bundu people of Sierra Leone and Liberia represents Sowe, a spirit emerging from smooth silty river bottoms. In these countries the pan-ethnic Sande women’s society organized initiation rituals for young girls in which they were taken to remote areas and instructed in the transition to womanhood. The rituals included music and dancing, with an elder female wearing this type of helmet mask on top of her head, her body covered in long raffia, and her arms in long loose fabric sleeves.
The Sowe spirit comes from the silky bottoms of rivers and lakes. On display, it has no spiritual power or presence. Its power occurs when it is accompanied by music and dance, used to instruct through its shiny black surface, idealized ornate hairstyle, small closed mouth, and downcast eyes.
The masks were made by men, but they are part of the only known masquerade
tradition in which the masks were worn by women. This ritual may be an
ongoing practice. (Brooklyn Museum, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY).
The mask in the Songye is a "kifwebe." These masks represent protective forces
used to protect from external threats. The masks are designed differently for
men and women. With males masks more representation of aggressiveness and may
feature red, associated with blood, courage and danger. Female masks represent
positive forces and are used mainly in dances performed at night, such as
during lunar ceremonies.
The Guro (or Gouro), a southern Mande-language group in the central part of Côte d’Ivoire. They are known for their rich masquerade traditions. The Guro distinguish between “forest” or sacred masks endowed with powers, and profane “amusement” masks. Nevertheless, all Guro masks are designated by the generic term yu, power. Women are allowed to see only the amusement masks. Among the Guro amusement masks is the Zamble family, which includes the mythical antelope-leopard male Zamble, his beautiful wife Gú and Zàùlì, the wild and grotesque brother of Zamble.
Zàùlì masquerades are common at funerals. The best-known form of the Zàùlì
mask is Flali, ‘village woman’, a woman’s face ornamented with a bird
representing a beloved woman who has died too young, and whose inconsolable
widowed husband wants to see her reproduced in image and dance. Flali used
to be danced by women in certain villages but is now danced by men.
Source: Claudie Haxaire, “The Power of Ambiguity: the Nature and Efficacy of the Zamble Masks Revealed by ‘Disease Masks’ Among the Gouro People (Côte d’Ivoire),” Journal of the International African Institute 79, no. 4 (2009): 543-569.View In Catalog
Scholars record that the Dogon masks such as this one called kanaga, are worn primarily at dama, a collective funerary rite held periodically for Dogon men. The goal of the ritual is to ensure the safe passage of the spirit of the deceased to the world of the ancestors. The ceremony is organized by members of Awa, a male initiation society with ritual and political roles within Dogon society. As part of the public rites related to death and remembrance, Awa society members are responsible for the creation and performance of the masks.View In Catalog
The Dan people comprise a West Affrican ethnic group in northwest Cote D'Ivoire and northeast Liberia. Dan masks are made and used by all-male secret associations for rituals, education, social control, and entertainment. Masks were thought to embody the most powerful of spirit forces called gle. Each gle has its own character as a means of bringing control and order to village life. The gle masks were worn and danced by male members of secret societies with initiation, leadership, and ritual roles.
This mask is carved from one piece of wood; a shirt or dress with a pocket still intact covers the back. The headdress is made of balls of rug or burlap covered with fabric. Straw and animal hair frame the lower part of the face.
It may represent a Tanka-gle with its mouth and teeth open. Tanka-gle are seen as gentle, good-humored, and amusing. They appear before dignitaries to sing and recite proverbs asking for Divine blessings on communities. Unlike the female Dean-gle, the Tanka-gle and other male masks have open mouths. The masks are part of full-body costumes.
This mask was formerly identified as We (Kran) mask. We is a general term that ethologists
have used to group all the forest tribes in this area, of which the Dan are a part.
Sources: Jessica Feinstein, “Art, Out of Africa,” Yale Daily News (January 30, 2004), B1, ill.View In Catalog
The Punu (or Bapunu) are a Bantu meta-ethnicity of Central Africa, one of the four major peoples of Gabon and some areas of the Republic of Congo The Punu live in independent villages divided into clans and families, united through a secret society known as moukoudji which regulates community life and applies itself to the neutralization of evil forces. The moukoudji utilize statuettes, human relics, and masks in dances.
Punu are matrilineal and venerate the 'first' female ancestor, the mukaukila , in ceremonies, song, and dance with the okuyi (pl. mekuyo) 'white masks' of the mwiri male initiation society. These masks are believed to harness the powers of female ancestors, and are worn and danced by men in communal rites such as funerals, youth initiations, and births.
The okuyi mask may be worn by stilt performers from the mwiri society during ritual ceremonies, to request spiritual intervention in the hunt for malicious forces by dancing on stilts as tall as nine feet, holding fly-whisks, and dressed in costumes of plant fibers.
Okuyi white-faced masks typically feature scarification patterns on the forehead in groups of
nine squares in a diamond formation. Punu masks represent idealized female ancestors' faces
with the white facial color symbolizing peace, spirits of the dead, and the afterlife. The
okuyi mask features protruding pursed lips, globular protruding eyes incised with a curve,
a high-domed forehead, and characteristic rigid high coiffures reflecting Punu women's hairstyles.
The masks often have an Oriental expression, but no such influence has been established.
Sources: Dinesh Sathisan, "The Ideal Beauty of the Punu Okuyi" (March–April 2011), 17; Barbara Thompson, “The African Art Collection at the Hood Museum of Art,” African Arts 37, no 2 (Summer 2004):28-9.View In Catalog
Sacred figures such as this one were made by the Moba people who live in Togo on the west coast of Africa between Ghana and Benin. They are no longer made. According to oral tradition, they could only be carved by those whose fathers were shamans. The small ones were for private shrines in every household as a way of having direct access to the primal spiritual power of divinity. The larger ones stood in the heart of the family compound as a shrine to recent ancestors who needed to be consulted from time to time. The most elemental figures have no gender. The larger ones have female characteristics which means they are images of ancestral figures rather than the primal divinity. The faceless character of the most simple ones remind many of the so¬ called "Goddess of Willendorf."
Indeed, it is generally accepted that all art began in Africa, because that is where the first humans lived. It is possible that
both sculptures are from approximately the same era, not in terms of when they were fabricated but in terms of when the form was
first conceived. In fact, the African work could be a good deal older as an iconic image, and might even have served as a
prototype for the European image. This is only a theory, of course, but theories of this type are worth considering as we
learn more about how and when our ancestors left Africa and populated the rest of the planet with their families, their art,
and their ideas of spirituality. (F. Lanier Graham)
This ancestral spirit figure from Papua New Guinea, carved from hardwood, has opposing curved projections surrounding the face. The body has quite thin arms, resting on the hips, and the legs are apart. The surface is blackened.
Ancestor figures are very common in the tribal world where departed ancestors are thought
to be very much alive in another reality. As a rule, the ancestors can influence current
events, for better or for worse. They are happy to receive gestures of love or at least
respect. Some ancestors are loved; some are feared. In either case, offerings are made. (F. Lanier Graham)
Sepik River Ancestors (Kandimbong) are male and found in the Murik Lakes and lower
Sepik River region of Papua New Guinea. They represent either clan founders or
heroes from their past . The marks on the chest and shoulders represent initiation marks.
These tall wooden carvings are usually female. They are used in different ways in ceremonies
conducted by the Poro Society of the Senufo people on the Ivory Coast. For some ceremonies,
they are pounded into the ground creating a rhythm for the dancers, "rhythm pounders," and for
others, gathered into the center. The statues were used to commemorate ancestors, adolescent
rite of passage initiations and funeral ceremonies. In rare cases, there are a pair of female
and male statues, which represents the primordial couple.
The best known Androgyne figures in all of Africa were carved by the Dogon in Mali. This excellent example is filled with male/female symbolism. The genitalia are male, the breasts are female. The spoon in front symbolizes ideal womanhood; the quiver in back symbolizes ideal manhood. The beard represents both. The stool is made of a round top, symbol of the sky god, and the four legs of the earth goddess. The Dogon came to Mali from the east, probably the Sudan, just south of Egypt. Curiously, their mythology has much in common with that of Bronze Age Egypt. One of their myths is very close to the myth of the Isis/Osiris.
The Dogon creator god is a self-created sky god called Amma (Ammo) who
created the world with the vibrations of his words. He mated with the
earth goddess to produce Nommo, who is the primary focus of Dogon worship.
Nommo and the bisexual paired offspring of Nommo were self-fertilizing
Androgynes who produced the Dogon people and taught them how to live.
Dogon rituals celebrate the mutual respect of the genders for each other
and for their shared cosmic Androgyny. (F. Lanier Graham)
Nkisi means "medicine," not in the conventional sense but in the metaphysical sense.
When the sculptor is ready, a shaman (nganda) places gris-gris (power material)
inside it, e.g. roots, leaves, horns, which are filled with special energy by the
shaman, Then the power object can be used in a number of ways, e.g., a healing
figure would have a nail driven in with each prayer for health. Nails are also
driven to "activate" the object for ritual use. The open hand of this figure used
to hold a knife. (F. Lanier Graham)
This bronze Walking Buddha, Sukhothai from north-central Thailand, is dated to the bronze 15th–16th centuries. An early Thai culture called Dvaravati, who practiced Buddhism, formed in the 7th century possibly under the influence of the great Indian center of Nalanda. Their art shows influence from Gupta India. Khmer influence started in the 10th century and became dominant in the 11th and 12th centuries. After freeing themselves from the Khmer, the Sukhothai style began to develop in the 13th century and continued through the 14th and15th centuries and has been replicated ever since. In this civilization, Hindu deities were respected but Buddha was always primary.
The great Sukhothai invention was the freestanding walking Buddha. Walking meditation is an
important part of Theravada Buddhism. These Buddhas are more graceful than any ordinary human
being could ever be. The androgynous form is a teaching in itself on the integration of opposites.
The lines are extremely fluid. The tiny fingertips transition from the material world to the invisible
world. The body seems to be swaying under the gentle pressure of a sweet wind. (F. Lanier Graham)
This impressive figure is a king, shaman, god or all three. He stands on an elephant head. The bronze statue is a reproduction of a larger one (8 1/2 feet tall) that was uncovered at Sanxingdui ("three star mound'), which is 25 miles from the Sichuan capitol Chengdu. Scholars guess that he is holding either a jade cong or an elephant tusk, as both were found in the archeological dig. One of the most important finds in the 20th century, the site yielded jades, bone, pottery, elephant tusks, and large bronzes. The pits where these objects were found, may represent a decommissioning of sacred materials after a disaster (floor or earthquake) or an invasion. No forms of writing were found. While bronze vessels and objects were made in other locations in China during this period, this culture featured these bronze human figures. The GTU collection contains additional objects (replicas) from this culture. For information on the find see, click here. For additional bronzes, click here.View In Catalog
Hodegetria (“she who points the way”) icon with the Theotokos ("the God-bearer," Mary) holding child Jesus. Mary points toward Jesus as the way; Jesus' right hand is raised with index and middle fingers pointed in a blessing. There are starburst images on Mary's right shoulder and on the forehead area of her mantle; she has a frontal gaze with her head tilted slightly toward Jesus. Letters at the top in Greek MP-OY (Mater Theouo/Mother of God), and over Jesus figure IX-XZ, which is a widely used Christogram, the traditional four-letter abbreviation of the Greek words for "Jesus Christ," the first and last letters of each of the words "ΙΗSΟΥS ΧΡΙSΤΟS.”
The icon of the Hodegetria was the famous protectress of the city of Constantinople. Her iconographic type is widely disseminated throughout the Orthodox oikoumene reflecting the miraculous nature of the now lost original.
Considered a prayer in picture form and a spiritual door, icons began as simply an image and became an essential part of Orthodox services and personal devotion and veneration.
According to F. Lanier Graham, during the 19th century, this icon was part of the domestic altar of his Great-Grandmother Mary Theodora Browne Lanier and then part of the domestic altar of Grandmother Alberta Benton Mankin Lanier.
Gift of Graham in honor of Jane Daggett Dillenberger. At her memorial service in 2015 this icon, which Professor
Dillenberger dearly loved, was named the "Jane Daggett Dillenberger Madonna."
Shabti are Egyptian funerary figures placed in tombs among other grave goods.
They were intended to act as servants for the deceased, in case manual labor
was required in the afterlife. Originally, they may have replaced sacrificial
victims. Produced in the thousands, shabti are among the most common artifact
from that time.
The Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan, temple and site are a modern-day marvel. Originally built in 1397 as a retirement home for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (r. 1368-1394/5 CE), the residence was converted into a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple after his death in 1408. It has been destroyed and rebuilt at least three times, the last one in 1950, when it was intentionally burned down by a novice monk. The bronze phoenix (meaning divine favor, virtue, and harmony) survived the fire as it was offsite being repaired. Since 1994, Kinkaku-ji has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site .
The Japanese website (http://bit.ly/39XtAl6) provides this observation:
"Unlike the gardens in Christianity, the gardens of Buddhist temples are backed by a Buddhist worldview, and along with the temples and temples, the gardens represent a Buddhist worldview. By visiting the temple and staying in the environment, you will be able to experience the Buddhist world more convincingly than the law and sermons…The visit to Kinkakuji Temple has been established as a unique means of missionary work due to the efforts of the people involved in Kinkakuji Temple and the achievements of its long history."
Tribal hand-woven reed grass lidded basket with a carved wood effigy figure on the top opening lid and bottom half of carved wooden body on the underside of the basket. This covered reed basket has a wooden-figure handle and legs that protrude from the bottom of the basket.View In Catalog
Power figures are carved by the Songye, a people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
for protection from witchcraft and evil and to promote fertility and success. The power of the
figure is from their spiritual leader. Large ones were used to protect the community, while smaller
ones protected a family. Other objects, such as shells and hair, are added to the figure, adding
additional magical powers.
Prayer fans in different forms have been used by Native Americans to assist in the healing of the body and the spirit.
The fans are made with feathers from different birds, with the intention of imbuing their specific spirit into the fan.
In some rituals, the fan is waved to help send a specific prayer to the spirit world. In other rituals for physical ailments,
the fan directs smoke from burning herbs to attract helpful spirits and direct the focus towards the location of the problem.
Gift of Robert Caples (Longfoot).
Music and rhythmic instruments are used in nearly all religious rituals and ceremonies. Some, like this rattle, reflect the spirit worlds. The use of a rattle is commonly used by all Native American tribes.
The traditional rattle is crafted from materials from the three kingdoms: animal, mineral and plant. The rattle is usually wrapped with leather, and feathers are attached. The container contains rocks. The handle is made of wood, and the container is either a gourd or wood. When used in ceremonies, the rattle assists in creating spiritual energy and a trance like state.
This rattle is a gift of Dhyani Ywahoo, a new age spiritual teacher who claims three different
spiritual lineages, including the Tsalagi/ Cherokee tradition.
According to the Seattle Art Museum, in describing a similar prow: "For Iatmul people, the
river is their mother and a crocodile ancestor once carried Earth from the primeval ocean
up on its back to create their island home. Sitting in a canoe with this prow, people rode
on the back of a powerful creature to merge with a river with its many relatives."