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Gallery Text

This leonine head of a beast originates from a group of Buddhist cave temples in northern China known collectively as Xiangtangshan, or the “Mountain of Echoing Halls.” Commissioned in the sixth century by rulers of the Northern Qi dynasty, the Xiangtangshan Caves are believed to have been an important place of worship for the royal family. The masterfully carved images are a vivid testament to the power, religious piety, and political aspirations of these royal patrons, who believed that the construction of temples and making of Buddhist images generated spiritual merit for the state.

Although demons and monsters were generally thought to be harmful, their representations in Buddhist contexts were intended to demonstrate the efficacy of Buddha’s teachings in subduing evil. This head originally belonged to a winged monster, shown crouching beneath the weight of a massive altar at the center of the cave, reminding worshippers that Buddhism had the power to tame malevolent creatures and bring them into the service of good.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Head from a Column Support in the Form of a Crouching Winged Beast
Work Type
head, sculpture
550 - 577
Creation Place: East Asia, China, Hebei province
Northern Qi, 550-577
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Limestone; from central pillar of North Cave, northern Xiangtangshan Caves, Wu'an, Hebei province
H. 63.5 x W. 64 x D. 34 cm (25 x 25 3/16 x 13 3/8 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Samuel Cabot and Mrs. George R. Agassiz, Boston (by 1926), gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1926.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Samuel Cabot and Mrs. George R. Agassiz
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Publication History

  • Katherine R. Tsiang, Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan, exh. cat., David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art (Chicago, IL, 2010), p. 238, no. 10

Exhibition History

  • S426: Chinese Buddhist Cave Sculpture, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/20/1985 - 04/30/2008
  • 32Q: 1006 East Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 02/23/2023

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at