Exhibition Artifacts (Part 1)
1. Mother Tiger with Baby
Western Zhou Dynasty, ca. 1027-722 BC
(H) 10 cm, (L) 20 cm
Shaanxi Baoji Municipal Museum
This remarkable work was excavated in 1988 at Rujia Village in Baoji City, Shaanxi Province. It is an extremely fine example of craftsmanship. The overall incised design gives the work a sense of controlled execution and playfulness. The mother tiger has her head down (a Chinese characteristic) and ears raised, and her eyes bulge out. She carries the cub in her mouth.
The large number of animals found in tombs demonstrates their importance in daily life and, therefore, the afterlife. The tiger is not native to China but was imported by the Imperial court. It is the third animal in the Chinese Zodiac (zo meaning "animal") and one of the four directional animals of Chinese cosmology (West). Small animal figures were placed in tombs as minqi or "spirit objects." Minqi (pronounced "ming chi") were surrogates for the real thing and were meant to provide comfort or safety in the afterlife. They allowed the owner to take his wealth and items of importance with him. Minqi also tell us about the interests and lifestyle of the period.
2. Tiger Face Mask
The war chariots of the Western Zhou were richly decorated. The harnesses of the horses were ornamented with beads, cowrie shells, and bronze. Bronze masks covered the horses' eyes and nose. A second mask was often mounted above the ears. This Tiger Face Mask has a protruding nose-bridge, two straining ears, and two angry eyes with holes for the eye sockets. There are holes for cords to fasten it to the horse's head.
China was the only ancient civilization to develop an efficient horse harness. In the West, a strap across the horse's throat closed his windpipe as he pulled. In about the 4th century AD, the Chinese developed a harness with a yoke, and later a strap, that went across the horse's chest. The weight of the load was now borne by the horse's chest and collarbones -- he no longer had a strap across his throat choking him half to death!
3. Gold Tiger
This tiger is made of gold and weighs only 30 grams, but it looks powerful and mighty, with strong legs. The crouching tiger has its mouth agape, showing its teeth, and its ears are pointed up. Spirals mark the shoulder and hip and inverted hearts the ears. At the back is a bar, to which a leather strap could be attached for use as a harness ornament. Wealthy Chinese aristocrats traveled, hunted, and fought from horse-drawn chariots. These are described as elaborately decorated, gleaming carriages.
4. Hepan Drinking Vessel
The Heh (vessel) was used to heat wine. During the Shang and Zhou dynasties, it was a three-legged bronze container. In the Spring and Autumn period, it became flat and thin in form and gradually lost its function of heating wine. The container has an animal-head spout on the front, an animal-head handle on the back, and a bird-shaped handle on the top. It sits on a saucer with a rounded base and ears for lifting. It is a minqi (burial object), small in size and never meant for actual use.
Bronzes from the Shang and Zhou dynasties exhibit a sophisticated technology. These people produced a wide range of beautiful and elegant objects unmatched in the rest of the world at that time. Shang and Zhou bronzes were cast in piece molds, an outgrowth of techniques potters had developed for producing fired clay objects. Clay mold sections were assembled around a hard clay core. The mold sections contained the negative image of the vessel's contour, including its surface decoration, which had been transferred to the mold from a clay matrix. Molten bronze alloy was then poured into the empty space between the clay core and the outer mold assembly and allowed to cool. The resulting cast vessel required no further work beyond minor finishing. Of the large number of bronze objects produced during the Zhou, most were food containers. They attest to the importance of food and the kitchen during the period. Bronzes from the middle Western Zhou were smooth shapes, often decorated with birds. During the late Western Zhou, bold, abstract patterns were used as decoration.
Illustrations Courtesy of Yvonne Todd
Kentucky Horse Park
International Museum of the Horse
The Millennium's First Great
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