Kneeling winged monster

Historical period(s)
Northern Qi dynasty, Period of Division, 550-577
Limestone freestanding sculpture
H x W x D: 88.4 x 47.3 x 28.5 cm (34 13/16 x 18 5/8 x 11 1/4 in)
China, Hebei province, Northern Xiangtangshan, Middle Cave
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Sculpture, Stone

Buddhist sculpture

Buddhism, cave, China, demon, lotus, monster, Northern dynasties (386 - 581), Northern Qi dynasty (550 - 577), Period of Division (220 - 589), temple

To 1916
Lai-Yuan and Company, New York, to 1916 [1]

From 1916 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Lai-Yuan and Company in 1916 [2]

From 1920
The Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] See Original Miscellaneous List, S.I. 927, pg. 206, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Lai-Yuan & Company (C.L. Freer source) ca. 1915-April 1921


This mythical, composite animal and the similar one on the opposite side of the doorway are guardian-demons whose repellent ugliness was believed to avert evil. They were created as pillar bases, or architectural supports, inside the Buddhist cave-temple of the northern Chinese site known as Xiangtangshan, which straddles the border of Hebei and Henan provinces. The presence of these guardians beneath a row of Buddha images in Cave 7 at Xiangtangshan signaled their role as protectors of Buddhist Law. 

Cave 7 originally contained at least twenty-four similar sculptures, but they proved so appealing to Japanese and Western collectors that most of them were removed in the early twentieth century for sale. Many museums bought pairs of the guardian figures. Charles Lang Freer purchased only one (in 1916), but the Freer Gallery of Art purchased an additional two in the 1950s, and the gallery was later given two more in the 1970s. Each sculpture is slightly different.

The specific site of these pieces has been clearly known in the West since the 1950s, but when Mr. Freer made his purchase in 1916, he was unaware of where it came from in China and was told the work was slightly earlier than it actually is. 

Published References
  • Sir Leigh Ashton. An Introduction to the Study of Chinese Sculpture. London. pl. 46, fig.2.
  • Grace Dunham Guest, Archibald Gibson Wenley. Annotated Outlines of the History of Chinese Arts. Washington, 1949. p. 7.
  • Catalogue of the Inaugural Exhibition, June 6-September 20, 1916. Exh. cat. Cleveland, June 6 - September 20, 1916. p. 296.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

This image is in the public domain (free of copyright restrictions). You can copy, modify, and distribute this work without contacting the Smithsonian. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.