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Archaic Carved Bone Tiger

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Carved bone in the form of a standing tiger supported on four straight legs terminating in rounded paws. One end of the hollowed bone forms the head of the tiger, with muzzle and open mouth, eyes and large well-formed ears, continuing to the tubular body and curled, grooved tail which terminates in a loop. The back of the animal is carved with bands of squared scrolls and the sides of the body with double bands of chevrons forming the tiger stripes. The underside of the belly is deeply carved with a row of U-shaped motifs which continue under the chin in the reverse direction. The softly polished bone is an attractive honey tone.
 

Length: 11.1cm

Provenance:
Sze Yuan Tang Collection, Hong Kong. 

Fong Chow, New York.

Exhibited:
London, 2016, Eskenazi Limited.

Published:
Christie’s, New York, The Hardy Collection of Early Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art from the Sze Yuan Tang, 21 September 1995, number 129.

Christie’s, New York, Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 21 - 22 March 2013, number 1192.

Eskenazi, Early Chinese art from private collections, London, 3 - 25 November 2016, number 3.

Similar examples:
Institute of Archaeology, Yinxu Fuhao mu, (Tomb of Lady Hao at Yinxu in Anyang), Beijing, 1984, plate 183, figure 3; also, plate 135, figure 2 for a comparable example in green jade and plate 175, figure 4 for an example  in malachite.

Maxwell K. Hearn, Ancient Chinese Art, The Ernest Erickson Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987, page 77, number 116 for a smaller crouching tiger.


It is likely that the present tiger carving was intended as a protective amulet, with the loop formed by the tail providing a means of attachment. The Shang period tomb of Fu Hao (c. 1200 BC), Yinxu, Anyang, Henan province, is a rich source of a variety of realistic animal carvings and, as cited above, comparable three-dimensional figures of tigers in bone, jade and malachite were found in her tomb. It has been suggested by Jessica Rawson, in a  discussion of Fu Hao’s  tomb, that such carvings and their  intaglio line decorations were based on southern bronze prototypes: ‘One jade animal type, the tiger, is probably a copy of a southern bronze prototype, a tiger figure from Jiangxi Xin’gan Dayangzhou. Several three-dimensional carvings from Fu Hao’s tomb are of exactly the same shape as the small figures in bronze perched on the handles of bronzes from Jiangxi.’1 The tiger motif is also discussed in Wen Fong ed., The Great Bronze Age of China, New York, 1980, number 17 and page 113, in relation to the ding with tigers perched on the handles, excavated in Qingjiang xian, Jiangxi province and now in the Jiangxi Provincial Museum and number 19, the nao bell with a pair of tigers cast on the interior, from Laoliangcang, Ningxiang xian, Hunan province, now in the Hunan Provincial Museum.

1 Jessica Rawson, Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1995, page 206.