Two openwork bronze plaques representing feline-like quadrupeds, perhaps tigers, the bodies S-shaped, the heads turned back, the beasts glaring at each other with ears perked and mouths agape, each standing on the stiff, horizontally extended body of a snake, link together to form a clasp for a belt, the bodies of the creatures enhanced with sunken linear details including spirals, comma shapes, hooks, scrolls and mock granulation. The straight horizontal tail of one feline ends in a snake’s head, which hooks through the loop formed by the down-swept tail of the other. The reverse sides are each cast with a raised circular knob for attachment to the ends of a belt. Loops extending beneath the feet of the tigers below the snake “platforms” secure chains each consisting of 29 links and decorated with sunken geometric patterns. Green patina and red cuprite are apparent on the surfaces with evidence of a textile wrapping present on the face and neck of one of the animals.
A belthook in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts datable to the 5th-3rd century B.C. is fashioned with tiger-like animals similar to the present but with the chains linking the two sides of the belthook which prompts us to question how precisely such chains were actually meant to function. The arrangement of the Idemitsu piece suggests that the chain was the actual “belt” whereas the present arrangement, which is similar to those illustrated and discussed by Gunnar Andersson, suggests that the chains could have been used to suspend other objects, necessities, or accoutrements.
It was noted in a description of a related belthook presently without the chains in the Mengdiexuan collection that similar plaques with pendant chains were discovered in northeast Shaanxi province and also that there is a stylistic similarity between some of these “canine-like” animal-shaped belthooks and products of the Jin bronze foundries at Houma in Shanxi province which flourished during the 6th-5th century B.C.
1. See Ancient Chinese Arts in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1989, pl. 232.
2. See Gunnar Andersson, “Hunting Magic in the Animal Style,”Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, vol. 4, Stockholm, 1932, pl. XIV:3 and the discussion pp.249-250.
3. See Julia White and Emma C. Bunker, Adornment for Eternity, Denver Art Museum, Denver, 1997, no. 7, p. 86.