A painted and lacquered wood double-headed antlered tomb guardian, zhenmushou

戰國 楚國   彩繪黑漆木雕雙頭鎭墓獸

The composite creature is of alarming appearance, comprising two beasts facing in opposite directions, each with a squarish face with a square-cut mane with stylized curls, protruding boss-shaped eyes, a broad nose with a tusk curving up on each side, downward-pointing fangs and, most prominently, a long pointed lolling tongue, all with red painted detailing. At the temples of each are tenons into which slot the ends of a pair of impressive many-tined stag antlers, shaved and lacquered and with painted detailing in red and white. Each head is carried on a broad sinuous neck of square section, with a square collar, joined to its partner at the nape of the neck and below the collar to form, overall, a lyre-shaped mortise that sockets into the broad square tenon of the base. The base is formed of a block of square section with sloping upper surface, cut with channels to create raised panels at the sides and corners. The whole is applied with a thin layer of black lacquer, worn in places to reveal the timber beneath.

Tomb guardians of this remarkable type were made in the Chu kingdom, one of the Warring States of the later Zhou Dynasty. Chu remained independent until its conquest by the state of Qin in 223 B.C. It has been shown through excavations to be one of the most important centres for the production of lacquer in early China, and the richest sites, producing distinctive zoomorphic sculptures like the present figure, are in Jiangling in Hubei province. Although not certain, it is assumed that figures like the present one were apotropaic, intended to scare away spirits that might disturb the occupant of the tomb.

A double-headed guardian and stand was unearthed in 1975 from tomb 1 at Tianxingguan, Jiangling, Hubei province and is illustrated by Tang Rensheng in Lacquer Wares of the Chu Kingdom, no. 57, p. 55. Another closely related example, also with a double head, from the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection of Early Chinese Art is in the collection of the Portland Museum, no. 2002.71.1A-E.

A further antlered tomb guardian figure but with a single head is in the collection of the Shanghai Museum and is illustrated in 千文万华. 中国历代漆器艺术 In a Myriad of Forms: The Ancient Chinese Lacquers, p. 28-29.

Dimensions: Height: 105 cm, 41 ¼ inches

Date: Chu Kingdom, Warring States Period (475-221 BC)

Stock No. 927

Price: On Request