20 dragon tiles


British Museum

British Museum

These ceramic tiles once decorated the roof ridges of small buildings in a temple complex in northern China. They were originally arranged into two long rows - one consisting of the yellow dragons and one of the blue. Each frieze today is made up of five tiles, moulded with three-clawed dragons entwined with flower scrolls, including the lotus and the peony. Dragons are associated with good fortune and with rain and water, so these images offered symbolic protection against fire. The colours and designs also reflect Chinese beliefs in the complementary powers of yin and yang, terms that embrace opposing qualities, such as light and dark. The sunny yellow, or yang, dragons were placed on a roof ridge facing south and the watery blue, or yin, dragons faced north. In the early twentieth century, during the chaos surrounding the fall of China's last dynasty, the tiles were removed from their original location and eventually came to be preserved as a wall screen. A few tiles have been lost and a few damaged, creating minor gaps in the current design.

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  • Title: 20 dragon tiles
  • Date Created: 1400/1599
  • Physical Dimensions: Width: 244.00cm; Height: 39.00cm; Depth: 12.70cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: glazed; moulded; fahua
  • Subject: dragon; lotus; flower
  • Registration number: 2006,0503.1.1-20
  • Production place: Made in Shanxi
  • Period/culture: Ming dynasty
  • Material: stoneware
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Hotung, Joseph
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