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A Pair of Bronze Bear-Form Finials

Heights: 16.0 cm. (6 1/4 in.)

Western Han dynasty
2nd-1st century BC

Each trapezoidal finial is surmounted by the form of a bear, the bulky body appearing massive and powerful, standing foursquare with head facing forward. Each animal has a thick body, a looped tail, and stands firmly with large paws adding stability as it balances on the narrow base. The oversized head of each bear has a typical blunt snout and is slightly lowered with the open mouth revealing a curled tongue. Each elongated trapezoidal shaft is hollow, sharp-edged, and simply decorated with thin vertical triple bowstrings on each side. On each of the two widest sides is a single square aperture flanked by pairs of lozenge shapes in relief with additional thin double-line borders running up the sides. One fitting has a pin through the top aperture, the other fitting with the remains of two corroded pins. Overall the color of the ornaments is dominated by the rich green malachite color of the patina.

During the Western Zhou period, chariot accoutrement included rather large round jingles supported sockets fashioned to fit over upright posts and these mounted in sets at the front of the chariot. The distinctive angular form of the socket supporting the bells is mirrored in the present pair of fittings in which the bear terminals, however, replace the jingles. These are similar to a bronze bird fitting excavated in Gansu and now in the Gansu Provincial Museum. We are told in the report of this find that according to Han-dynasty texts such finials were also mounted on staffs for presentation to elders. Yet the presence of as many as ten of these in one tomb in Gansu province, also noted in the report, suggests they might have had other uses, perhaps as architectural ornaments. The abbreviated and condensed ursine form of the present pair lends a modern sculptural sensibility that we are well accustomed to in the works of the Western Han artists and, whatever their function, they would have provided not only strong and somber décor but likely were considered agents of protection as well.

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