The nomadic peoples of the eastern Eurasian steppes had a preference for mobile art, intended for personal adornment and display. Often, these objects also had a functional aspect, such as horse harness ornaments, weapons, and jewellery for fastening clothing. This gold attachment attests to their love of animal imagery incorporated into intricate designs, and, above all, their talented artistry.
The openwork design features three coiling snakes in relief, their scales depicted with simple stippling. The representation of coiled creatures within a circular format was a northern innovation that was eventually adopted into mainstream Chinese culture during the Western Han period, demonstrating the reciprocal artistic exchange between the nomadic tribes and Chinese peoples. On the reverse, a bar across the ornament would have been used for attachment to the garment or harness. The ornament’s compositional structure affords it a sense of dynamism; the wheel-like form suggests continuous rotation and the coiled serpents give the impression of constant movement and changes of direction. It is easy to imagine how this object of adornment would have flashed and glittered in the light, attracting attention when worn, the glinting gold acting as a sure indication of the owner’s wealth and status.
E.C. Bunker, T.S. Kawami, K.M Linduff, and W. En, Ancient Bronzes of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections (New York, 1997),
Private Collection, NYm 1980s.
Published: T. Pang, Treasures of the Eurasian Steppes: Animal Art from 800 BC to 200 AD (New York, 1998), no. 180.