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Jonathan Tucker Antonia Tozer Asian Art

Bronze goose
Han Dynasty; 206 BC – 220 AD
19 CMS, 7 ½ INS.

A remarkable bronze model of a honking wild goose, standing on sturdy legs with webbed feet and wings neatly folded over its back, the neck stretching upwards and the head with small eyes to either side and beak wide open in full cry; with a dark mellow patina with some encrustation.

To the Chinese, the goose symbolizes trust and sincerity, expressed in the words xin niao. This object was probably a tomb-object, perhaps interred with its owner to entertain him in the afterlife. The recent discovery of forty-six, life-sized bronze birds at the tomb complex of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shihuangdi (r. 221-210 BC) in Xian give weight to this theory. The birds comprise geese, swans and cranes and were arranged along the sides of an underground river system together with a group of terracotta musicians who were presumably intended to play while the birds danced for the emperor - see fig. 194 in J. Portal (ed.), The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army, Exhibition catalogue, London: British Museum Press, 2007.

Bronze geese also had a utilitarian function in ancient China. For example, a painted bronze lamp in the shape of a wild goose and dating to the Western Han period was unearthed in 1985 at Zhao Shibazhuang, Shuo County, Shanxi province and is now in the National Museum of Chinese History, Beijing - see page 79 in National Museum of Chinese History, Exhibition of Chinese History, Beijing: Morning Glory Publishers, 1998. Compare also to no. 33, page 70 and front cover in J. White and R. Otsuka, Pathways to the Afterlife: Early Chinese Art from the Sze Hong Collection, Denver Art Museum, 1993.

all text & images Jonathan Tucker Antonia Tozer Asian Art

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