Harness ornaments provided great opportunity for artistic and personal expression, especially for those peoples whose livelihoods depended on their close relationship with the horse. The skill of the metal smiths engaged by nomadic and Chinese patrons is well represented by this impressive openwork example. Technically highly proficient, it epitomizes their ability to create charming objects in compact and understated compositions that display an assured understanding of their subject. Here, a three-dimensional feline head is shown atop a curled body with a griffin or raptor head terminal, with one sweeping coil acting as the body of the feline and the raptor, giving a sense of harmonious balance. The reverse has a u-shaped vertical loop for attachment.
The attachment surely belonged to a warrior of high standing - tinning was frequently used to indicate status in the western reaches of northern China, before the use of precious metals. This style of bridle ornament represented a new type in this and the Ordos region, introduced due to contact with mounted warriors from further west. The feline head is reminiscent of those used on Thracian harness ornaments found in Romania, whilst the griffin is a mythological creature of western Asian origin, introduced into southern Siberia in fifth century BC. The coiled bird motif derives ultimately from earlier Western Zhou bird designs. Such features indicate the richness of cultural and artistic exchange between nomads and Chinese and Mongolian inhabitants through trade, war, and coexistence.
E.C. Bunker, Ancient Bronzes of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections (New York, 1997), p. 252-3.
Private Collection, New York, 1980s
Published: T. Pang, Treasures of the Eurasian Steppes: Animal Art from 800 BC to 200 AD (New York, 1998), no. 126.