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Updated: 14 April 2015
Ridge-end roof tile in moulded earthenware, decorated with a beast mask ('kwimyon') to ward off evil spirits. Unglazed. One hole is made in the middle of the forehead for attaching to roof.
- Made in: Kyongju
- (Asia,Korea,South Korea,Kyongsang Bukdo (province),Kyongju)
- Found/Acquired: Malbang Temple
- (Asia,Korea,South Korea,Kyongsang Bukdo (province),Kyongju,Malbang Temple (Sungbok Temple))
- Height: 27 centimetres
- Width: 22.4 centimetres
- Depth: 8 centimetres
Inscription Content慶州郡 外(內)東面 末房寺XXX [probably 址出土]
Inscription TransliterationKyongjugun Waedongmyon Malbangsa XXX [probably jichulto]
[the character 內 was crossed out and replaced by 外]
Showa gannen hachigatsu
Inscription Translation[Excavated at] Malbang Temple, Waedongmyon, Kyongju county.
Eight month in the first year of the Showa reign period .
Inscription CommentThe ink writing on the back denotes the find spot of the roof-tile. Malbang Temple is a later name for the famous Sungbok Temple 崇福寺 during the Unified Silla dynasty. The tile was probably collected at the site of the former temple during the Colonial Period. The writing was probably added by the antiquities dealer. The tile was probably found August 1926. The time of writing was probably some time later, but it was missed that the first year of Showa began in December and thus ended right after it began and did not have an eighth month.
Kyongju, the capital city of Silla, was renowned for its tiled roofs and similar tiles were recovered in 1975-6, when Anap-chi and four palace buildings were excavated. After unification, the city grew in splendour, as recorded in the "Samguk yusa": "When Silla reached the height of her prosperity the capital, Kyongju, consisted of 178,936 houses, 1360 sections, 55 streets and 36 mansions. There was a villa and pleasure ground for each of the four seasons, to which the aristocrats resorted... During the reign of King Hongang (874-85), houses with tiled roofs stood in rows in the capital and not a thatched roof was to be seen".This roof-tile is the ridge-end tile that was placed at the four corners of the hip-and-gable roof of Unified Silla buildings. Ridge-end tiles were used to cover the end of diagonals that descend from the main ridge. It was made with a semicircular cut-out at the bottom end into which other tiles would be fitted. The tile was nailed to the roof through the hole in the middle of the forehead of the beast mask.
Looking out from each corner of the building, scary and fierce looking beasts with bulging eyes and flared nostrils, known in Korean as kwimyon, served to protect the building. They represent a guardian power that was believed to ward off evil spirits. Other roof-tiles are often decorated with lotus flowers, an important Buddhist symbol, and were common in the Silla Dynasty and Unified Silla Kingdom between the 6th and 9th centuries. Both the lotus and the beast tiles are derived from similar tiles that were common in Tang China (618-907). The identification of the beast on the tile varies and it has been interpreted to represent either a lion, a dragon or a tokkaebi, which literally means ghost or spirit.
The British Museum roof-tile was found at the former site of Malbang Temple 末房寺 in Kyongju, now South Korea, in 1926. Used in a temple building, it illustrates the flourishing of Buddhism in the Unified Silla Kingdom. Possibly in the Choson Dynasty (1398-1910) the famous Sungbok Temple 崇福寺 was renamed Malbang Temple. Sungbok Temple was the new name given to the Gok Temple 鵠寺 in AD 885 by King Hŏnkang 憲康王 (r. 875-886). The temple was initially built to ensure the spiritual protection of the tomb of King Wonsong 元聖王 (r. 785-795).
Ornamented tiles come in much variety and were produced in large quantities in the Unified Silla Kingdom period from the 8th to the early 10th centuries. They are also commonly found during excavations of sites dating to this period. For instance, the 1975 excavations of Anap-chi, a royal garden pond in Kyongju, yielded 5,798 tiles of 17 types with over 500 different designs. The kwimyon roof-tile in the British Museum is similar to some of those excavated at the Anap-chi site and thus retains typical stylistic characteristics of Unified Silla tiles.
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
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Object reference number: RRC17562
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