Ariadne Galleries

Earring depicting a Tiger
Period: First Millennium BC
Culture: Bactrian
Material: Gold
Dimensions: 2.5 cm Diam.
image 1
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This striking earring represents a dramatic vision of a tiger. The posture of the beast and the continuous curvaceous lines that define its supple body convey energy and vivacity, rather than fierceness. This abstract depiction is stylistically coherent, employing as its main devices the energetic line, and soft, rounded forms of the tiger’s anatomy. The beautiful sheen of gold and the magnificent granulated border add to its beauty and visual effectiveness. This earring is an extremely rare example of the Bactrian art of the first millennium BC.

The earring, supported on a loop, consists of a large disc made of a single sheet of gold and worked in the repoussé technique. This technique entails gently hammering the thin sheet of gold over a die so as to conform to its design. A desired composition in positive is carved into a die, which is usually made of wood. Hence, the wood carving needs to be of the highest quality and the skills of the goldsmith equally superior in order to produce a golden image that appears alive and well defined even in a low relief. The tiger is represented in a contorted pose, and its body is positioned so to conform to the confined circular area of the disc. The animal is placed to face the left, but its head is sharply turned towards the right and covers a large portion of its back. The rest of its body is contracted, and this restraining force makes its torso and limbs appear curved. The back and front legs bend first backwards, then forwards in a manner which is unnatural. This may be explained either by the abstract nature of the representation, or by the artist's adherence to the so-called 'Animal Style'. This style, which dominates the artistic traditions of most Asian, nomadic peoples of antiquity is characterized by some common features. In the artworks of the Scythians, for instance, animals are often represented with the legs folded underneath the body. This convention may be operative in the case of the Bactrian lion as well. The abstraction of the present tiger is further reinforced by its two-dimensional representation: only the left front and back legs are depicted, and only the most important features such as eyes and muzzle are to be seen. The eyes, for instance, are represented as disproportionately large. The disc is encircled by a beautiful string of granulated wire, which enhances the overall appearance of this striking portrayal of the tiger.


Further Literature

Bactria, an Ancient Oasis Civilization from the Sands of Afghanistan, edited by Giancarlo Ligabue, Sandro Salvatori (Venice, 1988).

Bernard, P., 'An Ancient Greek City in Central Asia', Scientific American, (January 1982), pp.148-159.

Talbot Rice, T., The Ancient Arts of Central Asia (New York, 1965).

Trever, K.V., Pamiatniki greko-baktriiskogo iskusstva (Moscow, 1940).




Private collection, New York, 1980s.