Phoenix-shaped Ornament for Funeral Bier

Accession Number

Phoenix-shaped Ornament for Funeral Bier


Artist Nationality
Korean (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
late 19th century - early 20th century

Medium & Support
polychromed wood

7 11/16 x 3 3/4 x 3/8 in. (19.5 x 9.5 x 0.9 cm)

Credit Line
Gift and partial purchase from Bruce and Inta Hasenkamp, purchase with funds from Elder and Mrs Sang-Yong Nam

Label copy
These ornaments were once attached to a funeral bier (the platform used
to transport a coffin to a burial place). In Korea the funeral ceremony was
considered the start of a journey for the departed. The funeral bier was
decorated with colorful wooden ornaments embodying wishes for a peaceful
afterlife for the deceased and good fortune for descendants. Figures included
a guide to lead the deceased into the other world, a guard to protect against
evil spirits, a caregiver, and an entertainer to console the dead and mourners.
Protective dragons and phoenixes were affixed to the front, back, and top of
the bier. The phoenix, considered female, is a symbol
of virtue, grace, and balance in Korea.
Before they became popular among foreign collectors in the 1970s, objects
related to religious and funerary rites were taboo in Korea and people feared
being close to or handling them. Though many mass-produced versions were
made after the 1970s, these rare ornaments were created around 1900.

Subject matter
The phoenix, also called the Fenghuang, is a symbol of virtue, grace, and balance. It is often paired with the dragon, for the phoenix represents the female and the dragon represents the male, serving as a symbol of harmony.

Physical Description
An ornament in the shape of a colorful bird, cut out of a single piece of wood and painted on both sides. A piece of bamboo has been nailed to the wing so that it could be inserted into a hole on the funeral bier. The bird has a blue face with green, white, red, orange, and yellow colorations over the body.

This funeral bier ornament is made of a piece of wooden panel cut into the shape of a mythical bird called bonghwang and painted on both sides. A piece of bamboo has been nailed to its wing for insertion into a hole on the funeral bier. The species of the wood used is unknown.

[Korean Collection, University of Michigan Museum of Art (2017), 218]

Primary Object Classification
Wood and Woodcarving

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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funeral ornaments (personal ornament)

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