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Recovering the Honour of a Royal General: The ‘Yuan Mi’ Sarcophagus Reattributed

The ‘Yuan Mi’ sarcophagus (hereafter, ‘the Mia sarcophagus’) is a stone coffin dating to the 520s that is decorated with intricately engraved imagery (Figs 1 and 1a). It is one of the most important extant examples of stone carvings from early medieval China (220–581). Acquired by the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) in 1946, it is among the best-known Chinese artworks on display in the United States. The sarcophagus belongs to a group of late Northern Wei (386–534) mortuary stones uncovered in Luoyang (in Henan province) in the early 20th century, mostly under unknown circumstances (Huang, 1987). As far as decorated coffins are concerned, the Mia sarcophagus has long been considered the only one whose owner can be identified with any certainty; most scholars believe the sarcophagus was made for the tomb of Yuan Mi, a Northern Wei prince who died in 523 and was buried in Luoyang the following year.

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July/August 2020
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