Roof tile, China, about 1500-1650. Museum no. C.363-1912
Museum no. C.363-1912
This water dragon ridge tile was probably made for a minor palace or temple hall, and was donated by a man resident then in Tanjin, Hebei province, north China. This tile illustrates a popular legend about the dragon living in the East Sea. It was believed that it rained whenever the monster opened its jaws to spout water. Thus its representation on the roof would protect against lightning and fire.
'St. George and the Dragon', carved ivory relief, Dominik Steinhart, Germany, 1680-1720. Museum no. A.36-1949.
'St. George and the Dragon'
Carved ivory relief
Museum no. A.36-1949
The subject depicted is the legend of St. George and the Dragon. St. George was a legendary warrior, saint and martyr and is the patron saint of England. To the early Christians, a dragon symbolised evil and in particular, paganism. According to myth St. George was said to have fought a dragon by the seashore, outside the walls of a city, in order to rescue the king’s daughter who was being offered as a sacrifice. In this relief, St. George, dressed in armour and mounted on a horse, brandishes his sword. His lance has pierced the dragon's throat.
Plate, China, 1683-1722. Museum no. C.769-1910
Museum no. C.769-1910
This blue and white dish features decoration of a dragon among clouds and a 'fish-dragon' among waves. In China dragons are an extremely popular decorative motif, found on many different kinds of objects and materials. As well as being one of the animals in the East Asian zodiac the dragon is generally regarded as a supernatural creature and is the subject of numerous Chinese legends. The 'fish-dragon' motif relates to a folk tale in which a golden carp, after leaping up the 'dragon' falls, is transformed into a dragon and flies away. This is regarded as a metaphor for success.
Silver cream jug, England, about 1750. Museum no. M.248-1921.
Silver cream jug
Museum no. M.248-1921
The handle of this cream jug is in the shape of a dragon or sea creature. Eastern traditions often associated dragons with water but in Christian cultures they symbolised the devil or temptation. Playful, writhing dragons, flowers, animals and shells were popular forms of decoration from the 1730s, a style known as Rococo. Taking milk or cream with tea was not an established convention in the 1730s and so cream jugs were designed individually in a variety of shapes. This example is a scaled-down version of the helmet-shaped ewer fashionable from around 1710. It is made of silver decorated with a thin layer of gold.
Ehon Sakigake from 'Illustrations of Heroes' by Katsushika Hokusai, first volume of set of four woodblock printed books, Japan, 1836. Museum no. E.15136-1886.
From 'Illustrations of Heroes' by Katsushika Hokusai
First volume of set of four woodblock printed books
Museum no. E.15136-1886
This is the first volume of a four-volume set of woodblock printed books, Illustrations of Heroes, designed by Hokusai and engraved by Sugita Kinsuke and Egawa Tomekichi. The book contains stories of historical and mythical characters from Chinese and Japanese legend. The illustration here is from the 'Tale of Urashima Taro', a fisherman who falls in love with, and marries, Otohime, the daughter of the Dragon King of the Sea. The illustration here is of the moment when, after the birth of his child, he sees his wife in her true form as a dragon. When he eventually returns to the real world he discovers that some 300 years have passed.
Bronze statuette, Italy, 16th century. Museum no. 109-1869
Museum no. 109-1869
This statuette of a winged dragon is a development of a medieval tradition of casting representations of fabulous creatures in brass. It would have been made to order for a wealthy patron as an ornament for the home.
Copper and iron rain spout, Germany, 17th century. Museum no. 1208-1872
Copper and iron rain spout
Museum no. 1208-1872
Metal rain spouts and stone gargoyles throw rainwater well clear of a building. In Europe they often took the form of animals or beasts, like this dragon. The water flowed from its mouth, making it seem like a living creature. Decorative ironwork is an attractive feature of many German buildings. This dragon rain spout would have projected far beyond the eaves and been supported by elaborately foliated brackets. Originally, the decorative effect was heightened by added colour and gilding.
Chinese Imperial Dragon Robe (detail), woven embroidered silk, China, 19th century. Museum no. T.199-1948
Chinese Imperial Dragon Robe (detail)
Woven embroidered silk
Museum no. T.199-1948
Dragon robes of such magnificence were worn by Chinese emperors on formal occasions. These imperial clothes are distinguished from those worn by Chinese bureaucrats by the frequent use of yellow and the patterning of twelve small motifs within the standard dragon and cloud layout.
Netsuke, Toyokazu, Japan, about 1850-1900. Museum no. A.54-1952
Museum no. A.54-1952
The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sashes by a silk cord. Netsuke had to be small and not too heavy, yet bulky enough to do the job. They needed to be compact with no sharp protruding edges, yet also strong and hardwearing. Above all they had to have the means of attaching to a cord. Netsuke were made in a variety of forms, the most widely appreciated is the katabori (shape carving), a three-dimensional carving, such as this one in the form of a dragon in a Chinese lantern plant. The great skill of this netsuke carver lay in contrasting the shape and texture of this apparently unlikely combination of subjects. A netsuke portraying one of the animals from the East Asian zodiac was particularly associated with New Year festivities of the appropriate year, but could also be used any time during that particular year. It could also be used again in 12 years time in accordance with the cycle.
Netsuke, Kagetoshi, Japan, about 1850-1900. Museum no. A.813-1910.
Museum no. A.813-1910
This netsuke (Japanese toggle) depicts a dragon coiled round a temple bell. From the mid 18th century onwards, customers increasingly demanded imaginative and innovative netsuke. Some of these netsuke had hidden or surprise elements, as in this example. A trick mechanism allows the bell to open, revealing a young woman dancing inside. This combination of motifs clearly alludes to the story of the Dojoji Temple bell. According to this tale of vengeful female jealousy, Kiyohime, the beautiful young daughter of an innkeeper, fell in love with a priest, Anchin, who scorned her persistent advances. The furious Kiyohime first transformed herself into a witch, then a dragon. When Anchin took refuge under the great bronze bell of the temple, she used her magical powers to force the bell to crash to the ground, trapping Anchin inside. At this, she coiled herself round the bell, creating such an intense heat that Anchin was burned to death.