Ascent to Immortality: Ceiling Mural of Bu Qianqiu Tomb

UnknownHan Dynasty, ca. 94 - 48 BC

China Modern Contemporary Art Document

China Modern Contemporary Art Document

This mural with the theme of “ascent to the immortality” was discovered in the tomb of Bu Qianqiu and his wife. The painting begins with images of the Sun and Fu Xi, who is believed to be the first of the Three Sovereigns (Sanhuang三皇) of ancient China, and end with the Moon and Nüwa who is a goddess best known for creating mankind and repairing walls of the heaven in Chinese mythology. Ancient Chinese believed that Fu Xi and Nüwa represent Ying and Yang respectively, two mutually reinforcing and restricting natural forces. On the mural, right after Fu Xi are the tomb occupant on a snake and his wife on a three-head bird, who are heading for the Land of Immortality under the guidance of various auspicious animals.

We are surely familiar with the visual elements in this mural such as the toad in the moon, the golden raven in the sun, the snake and the bird carrying the occupant couple, all of which had repetitiously appeared on the burial banners such as the T-shaped Silk Painting and Silk Painting of Figure and Dragon unearthed in Mawangdui Tombs. These images reflected the imagination of people of all walks of life who lived in 300 to 100 BC about soul and the netherworld.

As a new form of tomb image emerging with the tremendous change of tomb structure, murals still bore close link with the old type of tomb adornment, namely, burial banners. In this tomb, the mural of “Ascent to Immortality” was painted on the ceiling, right below which is the cover of coffin, where a burial banner would have been placed according to traditions of previous dynasties. This is not a coincidence, rather, it intends to convey the power of images by setting the mural and the burial banner on two opposite positions.

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  • Title: Ascent to Immortality: Ceiling Mural of Bu Qianqiu Tomb
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date: Han Dynasty, ca. 94 - 48 BC
  • Provenance: Luoyang Museum of Ancient Tombs
  • Original Source: Luoyang Museum of Ancient Tombs 洛陽古墓博物館
  • Physical format: Tomb mural,31h x 451w cm
  • Medium: mural
  • Dynastic period: Western Han Dynasty
  • Artist's birth and death date: 94 - 48 BC