Lion Shadow Puppet

Lion Shadow Puppet

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Description (Brief)
Shadow puppet of a lion mounted on paper in modern glazed frame. Black paint of red-tinted and pierced animal skin. Made in China, c. 1850-1925.
Shadow puppets, flat pieces of leather or paper carved into shapes of animals, human figures, and scenery, are designed to be manipulated in front of a lamp, thereby projecting images on a screen. When combined with narration and music, these puppets create spectacular performances of ancient legends. Adored by young and old, the shadow theater has existed side by side with the living theater for centuries in China. Since its beginnings, this drama form has been as much a craft as it has been theater. In technique and origin, shadow puppets are closely related to papercuts, dating back to the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). Most historians now trace the origins of shadow puppetry to the Song Dynasty, a time of great wealth and tranquillity, a fertile time for advancement in all the arts. Tang records from Southern China describe Buddhist monks reciting sutras with illustrations or images lit by lanterns. Several points link the shadow theater with Buddhism. Fascination with shadow puppets spread abroad with missionary and commercial contact with China. How this particular shadow puppet made it to America is not clear. He was transferred from the collection of the Cooper Hewitt with very little information attached other than acknowledgment of his Chinese origin.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
1850 - 1925
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
place made
Physical Description
skin, animal (overall material)
paper (overall material)
wood (overall material)
overall: 18 in x 24 in x 1 1/2 in; 45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 3.81 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Entertainment
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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