This charming silver plaque depicts a feline advancing stealthily to the left, its head turned back over its shoulder, perhaps alerted by the sound of prey. The patterning of the creature’s fur is represented through incision lines and the muscles of its legs and details of its paws are clearly defined. The animal appears contorted, as if to fit the confines of the plaque’s boundaries, but, nevertheless, the execution remains very fluid, the elongated body sinuously curving, complemented by the counter-curve of the head and neck. The design was created using the repoussé technique, which involved impressing the sheet of metal on a matrix or die made of wood, stone or bronze, and tapping it with a soft hammer, a process that required extreme delicacy and skill. The depiction of wild, domesticated, and mythical beasts in the art of this period was popular, reflecting these cultures’ dependence on hunting and close relationship with the natural world, as well as carrying religious or magical significance.
This plaque was most likely attached to fabric or leather and is inspired by nomadic forms of personal adornment used to display power, wealth and status. It is reminiscent of the art from Inner Mongolia/Northern China, such as that of the Ordos culture, which occupied the Ordos loop in Inner Mongolia from the sixth to second century BC. However, there was much cultural exchange, and there is there is evidence that the elements of the art of northern peoples, many of them nomadic or semi-nomadic, were absorbed into mainstream Chinese art. In some cases, examples of art from the Ordos region and elsewhere have been discovered in Chinese lead-glazing and almost certainly produced only for burial.
The combination of precious material and fine metal working, combined with the object’s function as a symbol of status, all suggest that it must have been an important item to its owner. A tinned bronze feline attachment is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, although this is more schematic than the present example (inv. no. 2002.201.58, Northwest China and southwestern Inner Mongolia, fourth century BC). A gold plaque depicting a tiger contorted to fit the enclosed space, dating to the fifth to third century BC, from Toksun, Xinjiang, is now in the collection of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum, China.
J.M. White and E.C. Bunker, eds, Adornment for Eternity: Status and Rank in Chinese Ornament (Denver Art Museum, 1994).
Private Collection S.C., New York, 1980s.
Private Collection, Nevada, 2012.
Exhibited: CFASS, 203.