Wood and deer antlers. Accompanied by its C14 test from the Université Claude Bernard in Lyon (2001). Dimensions: 77,5 x 58cm. Provenance: Wah Kee Works of Art (Hong Kong, 2000) / Private Collection France / hence by descendance.
“In present-day Jiangling, the capital of the kingdom of Chu was located around the 5th to 3rd century BC. Tombs of this kingdom contain painted and varnished wooden sculptures of great refinement. In addition to figures of servants, many sculptures of (fable) animals have been unearthed. Real deer antlers were used for the fable animals and (mostly reclining) deer. The deer had an important symbolic meaning within funerary culture: it was supposed to precede the soul of the deceased on its way to heaven.
The archaeological fame of the Kingdom of Chu is due to the richness and diversity of its funerary goods, especially its wooden sculptures.
The funerary sculpture of Chu offers in particular the originality of associating natural antlers with carved wood, to represent fabulous beings or animals, mostly reclining deer. For the first time in the evolution of Chinese sculpture, these were depicted in a naturalistic manner, although this may not have been the main objective of the artist, who primarily wanted to express a religious idea. The importance of the deer is due to the popularity of this species, to its multifaceted symbolism and to its auspicious role in relation to the deceased: deer, in fact, are supposed to precede the spiritual soul in its journey to Heaven.” (From the catalogue of the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels)
A similar sculpture can be seen in Brussels: Lying Deer (475-221BC)
Royal Museums of Art and History Inventory number CH.0305
From a comment of curator Jessica Rawson (British Museum) on these sculptures: “The southern state of Chu, which dominated the area of the great lakes north of the Yangzi river, is renowned for its complex views of the spirit world recorded in the later, Han period, text, the 'Shanhaijing' ('Classic of the mountains and seas'). Wooden figures with monstrous faces, long tongues and antlers were placed as guardians in Chu tombs in southern Henan and northern Hubei provinces. This tradition of sculpture also embraced more realistic creatures, such as cranes and deer.
It seems likely that this southern area, which had employed figures of animals for its bronze vessels, retained a deep-seated interest in representing form in three dimensions. In this heavily forested area the abundance of wood made wooden sculpture possible. We do not know whether other areas produced such carvings, as little has survived, but it does not seem likely in the light of the history of sculpture generally.”
Rawson 1992 / The British Museum Book of Chinese Art (figure 87)
On display (G33/dc6b/s2) (G33/dc6b/s2)
Musee Cernuschi https://amis-musee-cernuschi.org/en/dieux-esprits-et-demons-du-royaume-de-chu-6eme-3eme-s-av-j-c/
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