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.
Rawson, “Eternal Places of the Western Han”21–30. Jessica Rawson has shown the ways in which China in the Qin and Han periods was part of a world that was entering early phases of globalization. New objects and motifs were brought into China through the contact between China and the borderlands and further west. The import of foreign items stimulated the ancient Chinese to create new and innovative materials.
Steinhardt 397–398; Li, Xuanhua Liao mu294–317. Su first suggests that polygonal burial chambers derived from pagodas. Han Xiaonan also points out the Buddhist influences in Song tombs. See Su 111; and Han 95–99. Other Buddhist elements in Liao and Song tombs include bronze mirrors installed in the center of a lotus coffer on tomb ceilings, symbolizing the immeasurable light of Buddhist dharma, and ornamented sumeru bases on the surface of coffin beds.