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Saddle Ornaments

Asian Art

On View: Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
Liao metalwork under the Khitan rulers drew inspiration from the earlier Tang-dynasty artistic vocabulary, including the flying phoenixes chasing the flaming pearl on this saddle. This motif is also found in Buddhist art of the same period; when found in secular objects, it is associated with women of royal rank (a dragon motif would have adorned the saddles of royal men). The saddle is also inspired by the contemporary Song-dynasty taste for repoussé decoration and high-relief silver ornaments. Such gold and silver saddles have only been found in Khitan royal tombs. This is one of only two known examples of precious metal Liao saddle ornaments in the United States, although other examples are known in China.
MEDIUM Silver, metalwork
  • Place Made: China
  • DATES 10th century
    DYNASTY Liao Dynasty
    PERIOD Liao Dynasty
    DIMENSIONS a: 11 1/2 x 13 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (29.2 x 34.3 x 3.8 cm) b: 17 x 17 3/4 x 3 in. (43.2 x 45.1 x 7.6 cm) c: 7 3/4 x 2 3/4 x 1/2 in. (19.7 x 7 x 1.3 cm)  (show scale)
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1990.72a-c
    CREDIT LINE Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Irving
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Three components of a saddle, executed in hammered silver: a) Hammered silver bow-shaped section of a saddle, decorated with two phoenixes, chasing a flaming pearl, amidst ruyi clouds. The background decoration is composed of incised grass-leaves and punched dots. Condition: At upper left rim and on two phoenix reliefs there are repaired cracks and tiny holes. Minor repair work on the reverse. b) Hammered silver bow-shaped saddle piece, decorated with design of two phoenixes chasing a large flaming pearl amidst stylized clouds. On background are incised grass-leaves and punched dots. Condition: Cracks in serveral places, including the phoenix on the right, repaired on reverse. c) Hammered silver saddle piece, decorated with stylized clouds in relief and incised grass-leaves and punched dots. Condition: A broad crack at the right center and repairs on the reverse. Few Silver saddle ornaments of this period survive. One comparable example was excavated from a prince's tomb of the Liao dynasty (901-1125) in Inner Mongolia. China, in 1954. The inner Mongolian saddle is decorated witha pair of dragons chasing a flaming pearl, a symbol associated with kingship. The pair of phoenixes chasing a flaming pearl is a demale symbol, which may suggest that the saddle was being used by a woman of royal rank. At the beginning of their reign, the Liao produced a large number of gold and silver wares using Tang (618-906) and Song (960-1127) metalware and guilding techniques. The meticulous and refined style of the decoration on this saddle is striking. As scholars in the field have pointed out, the technique of metalworking represented by such precious objects is unique, not only i nthis specialized field of Chinese art, " but probably also in the entire Western world." (Fontein, Jan and Tung Wu, Unearthing China's Past. p. 185.) In the case of the saddle excavated rom various noble tombs, we see how traditional Chinese burial custom found great favor with Liao high officials. apparently, gold and silver vessels and ornaments played and important role in their burial ritual. The only other known example of Liao metalwork in America is a silver-gilt crown in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, although several examples of silver saddle ornaments with dragon decoration have been cited in recent Chinese published soruces (cf. Wen Wu, 1982, no.7). Condition: fair. The thin silver sheets are damaged throughout, with small losses, fissures, punctures and indetations. There are wrinkles, creases and fissures where the metal has been subjected to bending, crushing and previous attempst to resotre silver to original shape. Pieces have patching and corrosion. Pieces may only be displayed on an angle not to exceed 15 degrees.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
    CAPTION Saddle Ornaments, 10th century. Silver, metalwork, a: 11 1/2 x 13 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (29.2 x 34.3 x 3.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Irving, 1990.72a-c. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1990.72a-c_edited_PS9.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 1990.72a-c_edited_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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