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HOME : Chinese Art : Warring States Period : Warring States Period Bronze Zoomorphic Figure
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Warring States Period Bronze Zoomorphic Figure - AM.143 (LSO)
Origin: China
Circa: 475 BC to 221 BC
Dimensions: 4" (10.2cm) high x 4.6" (11.7cm) wide
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Bronze

Location: United States
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This snarling creature – with dog, dragon and felid characteristics – dates to a fascinating stage in Chinese history known as the Warring States period. The preceding Zhou Dynasty ran alongside for some time, although it was in its death throes by this point. The Warring States were characterised by local warlords’ tendency to invade and hold neighbouring states, leading to the development of seven enormous polities. As they were not halted, they rose above their station as “dukes” and began to call themselves kings (between 325 and 299 BC), thus technically equal to the Zhou king himself. This moment saw the end of the Zhou dynasty. All the main states were riddled by internal intrigue and power struggles as coalition after coalition failed to stabilise the growing state of anarchy.

It was the comparatively minor state of Qin, which had been internally reformed in 359 BC, that started to emerge as a clear leader. By the time the other states had stopped squabbling, the Qin had become so powerful that even their united strength could not overcome it. A string of battles ensued throughout the third century BC, and although the Qin's status as most powerful state was assured by 260 BC, it took them until 221 BC to bring about the unification of China under a single yoke. Although they were vulnerable at many points, they were able to consolidate their win thanks to the fact that, even in this situation, the remaining minor states – now reduced to ciphers – were still skirmishing with each other.

The martial atmosphere of the period saw a massive acceleration in army technology, especially characterised by the increased use of iron, replacing bronze as the main material of choice. Chariots persisted for some time, but were largely overshadowed by the development of fast-moving cavalry units that were of greater use in the skirmishing tactics that characterised the period. For the same reason, crossbows and dagger-axes were very popular, as were trousers, which made their first appearance in China in about 307 BC. Philosophy of the Dao tradition became widespread, and, perhaps unsurprisingly in light of the spirit of the times, the philosophy of warfare became a highly developed tradition; Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is still viewed as the ultimate in the genre. There was less emphasis on artistic developments in this restless and uncertain time, but instead a stylistic reiteration of traditional forms, especially those linked with the iconography of war and other martial matters. As many of the battalions and armies used icons to represent themselves, items such as this would have been much in demand.

The animal is portrayed stretching its long, sinewy figure, curling up its head and tail and arching its back sensuously. It is perhaps most doglike, but is evocative of various animals that would have had significance for the person who commissioned the sculpture from a professional artist. The quality of the workmanship is superb. The limbs are rendered as muscular masses that are flawlessly integrated into the trunk of the creature. While not unanatomical, the flow and ebb of the figure’s lines lend a sinuous and expressionistic quality that heightens the languid power of the animal and the delicacy of the portrayal. The curl at the back of the head counterbalances the spiral of the arched tail, and the entirety of the portrayal is completed by the irregular patina with the high quality bronze beneath.

The function of this piece is uncertain, but it may have been mounted as a talisman, or carried, in order that its perceived qualities could assist the owner with whatever mission he was embarked upon. This is a remarkable piece from a turbulent and uncertain time in world history. - (AM.143 (LSO))


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