- Museum number
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.
- Production date
Height: 28.60 centimetres
Width: 22.60 centimetres
Depth: 8 centimetres
- Curator's comments
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.
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".
2016 National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage catalogue entries:
'Demon-faced tiles such as this one were laid at both ends of the main ridge of a hip-and-gable roof, as shown by the semicircular curve at the center of the base. Demon motifs were meant to repel evil forces from the house. The demon face was first used for the eave-end tiles during the Three Kingdoms Period (ca. 1st-century B.C. to the 7th-century), although this types of tiles entered mass production and widespread use in the Unified Silla, resulting in significant formal and aesthetic development. The inscription in ink on the back of the tile shows that it was excavated in 1926 from a Buddhist temple in Gyeongju.'
'팔작지붕의 마루 끝에 부착되는 마루용 귀면와이다. 하단의 중심부에 반원형의 홈이 있어 기와등 위에 얹도록 만들어졌다. 귀면와는 원래 무서운 수면獸面을 본떠 악귀의 침입을 방지하려는 벽사 邪의 상징이다. 목조 건물의 마루와 사래 끝에 장식하였다. 귀면은 삼국시대부터 기와 문양에 사용되었으나 귀면와는 통일신라시대에 대량으로 제작되었고 형태와 장식이 완벽한 수준에 이르렀다. 기와의 뒷면에는 ‘경주군 외(내)동면 말방사(지?)末房寺(址?) 소화원년 팔월’이라고 먹으로 쓴 글씨가 남아 있어 1926년에 경주의 사찰터에서 발굴된 유물로 추정된다.'
- On display (G67/dc5)
- Exhibition history
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
- Acquisition date
- Registration number