China, Western Han Dynasty / Mat Weight in the Form of a Bear / 206 BC - 25 ADChina, Western Han Dynasty
Mat Weight in the Form of a Bear
206 BC - 25 AD

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Dates/Places: China
Creator Active Place: China
Creator Name-CRT: China, Western Han Dynasty
Title: Mat Weight in the Form of a Bear
Title Type: Primary
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: -20
Creation End Date: 25
Creation Date: 206 BC - 25 AD
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: Gilt Bronze
Dimensions: Overall: 15.7cm
AMICA Contributor: The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 1994.203
Credit Line: John L. Severance Fund
Context: Engaging functional works of art that represent playful characterizations of real animals are among the greatest achievements of Han dynasty sculptors. This solid gilt-bronze bear, for example, was originally one of a set of weights used to anchor the edges of woven dining mats. Not only used during elaborate formal banquets, such weights were also frequently buried with other luxury goods in aristocratic Han tombs. In one such burial, four comparable gilt bronzes in the form of leopards were found at the corners of a decayed mat bearing containers for a symbolic feast. The selection and styling of this animal subject may be related to the expansion of the imperial zoological park and hunting reserve adjacent to the palace during the rule of the Han emperor Wudi (ruled 140?87 BC). This huge natural park, designed as a microcosm of the empire, allowed the emperor and his courtiers to observe the various species of plants and animals known at the time. The Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus)--the beast represented in Cleveland's golden weight--may well have been one of the species kept at the park and reserve. Quite ferocious, it figures prominently in Chinese literature of the period. One poem, written by Wudi's favorite court poet, describes hand-to-hand combat with the beast during a royal hunting expedition, while another account tells of how Han emperor Yuandi (ruled 48?32 BC) was almost attacked by a bear that got loose in the palace. This brilliant animal sculpture perfectly exemplifies the kind ofnaturalism explored by Han sculptors. Its conception and design suggest that they were, indeed, familiar with their natural subjects. Although simplified and lacking surface texture, the weight deftly captures the mass and characteristic anatomy of its subject, making it almost a kind of paradigmatic image of bearness. Its relaxed natural pose reflects not only a fidelity to observations of the animal's habits but also an effort to create an artistic form that by its shape alone communicates its intendedfunction. This piece, long owned by the Belgian collector Adolphe Stoclet (1871-1949), is related to a pair of hollow examples purchased by Mrs. Isabella Stewart Gardner of Boston in February 1914. The Gardner bears were said to have been excavated in 1900near Xi'an, Shaanxi, not far from the Western Han capital. No other examples have been found more recently by Chinese archaeologists. K.W.
AMICA ID: CMA_.1994.203
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, The Cleveland Museum of Art

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