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Realms Beyond

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Half-Open Doors in Chinese Funerary Art

image of Religion and the Arts

This article explores a mysterious but well-studied pictorial subject in Chinese visual art, namely the half-open door. The scene often shows a female figure standing in or emerging from the middle of two door-leaves, suggesting a path or an access to a certain space and also indicating a view incompatible with what the viewer has already seen. This pictorial theme frequently adorns stone sarcophagi and tomb walls in northern China from the late eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. By examining the forms and meanings of the motif, this study attempts to demonstrate the ways in which the half-open door was employed in funerary art and helped people to visualize prevailing ideas about the afterlife.

Affiliations: 1: Fudan University


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