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Silk Road Luxuries from China



Funerary Couch

Base of a funerary couch with Sogdian musicians and dancers and Buddhist divinities
China, Henan province, probably Ce xian
Period of Division, Northern Qi dynasty, 550–577
Marble with traces of pigment
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art F1915.109, F1915.110, F1915.336

These three stone slabs were once part of an elaborate stone couch (shichuang), a rare type of burial furniture used for the repose of the deceased. Couches made for nobles in northern China in the fifth to seventh century are commonly decorated with scenes inspired by the teachings of Confucius (551–479 BCE) or with protective spirits guiding the dead to the afterlife. This base, however, is carved with an unusual combination of Buddhist and secular themes. Double lotus petals—a Buddhist emblem of purity—form a continuous band across the top, while pearl roundels with musicians and dancers dressed in non-Chinese costumes (with boots, tight pants, and belted jackets) appear above figures of Buddhist deities and religious guardians.

At least nine stone slabs with comparable relief carving probably formed this shichuang. Charles Lang Freer, the founder of this museum, acquired these three slabs from a Chinese art dealer in 1915. Five additional parts are now dispersed in other museum collections; one element is still missing. Short tangs projecting from the upper slabs align with these pieces to form the bed. Like the base, the upper pieces feature lively scenes of Sogdian life in China. This combination underscores how the Sogdians traveled far from their ancestral home in Central Asia and freely borrowed from the diverse religions and cultures they encountered.

Two details, base of a funerary couch with Sogdian musicians and dancers and Buddhist divinities
China, Henan province, probably Ce xian
Period of Division, Northern Qi dynasty, 550–577
Marble with traces of pigment
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art F1915.109

Detail, base of a funerary couch with Sogdian musicians and dancers and Buddhist divinities
China, Henan province, probably Ce xian
Period of Division, Northern Qi dynasty, 550–577
Marble with traces of pigment
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art F1915.109

Two details, base of a funerary couch with Sogdian musicians and dancers and Buddhist divinities
China, Henan province, probably Ce xian
Period of Division, Northern Qi dynasty, 550–577
Marble with traces of pigment
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art F1915.110

Detail, base of a funerary couch with Sogdian musicians and dancers and Buddhist divinities
China, Henan province, probably Ce xian
Period of Division, Northern Qi dynasty, 550–577
Marble with traces of pigment
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art F1915.110

Detail, base of a funerary couch with Sogdian musicians and dancers and Buddhist divinities
China, Henan province, probably Ce xian
Period of Division, Northern Qi dynasty, 550–577
Marble with traces of pigment
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art F1915.336

At least nine stone slabs with comparable relief carving probably formed this shichuang. Charles Lang Freer, the founder of this museum, acquired these three slabs from a Chinese art dealer in 1915. Five additional parts are now dispersed in other museum collections; one element is still missing.

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