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Winged Chimera Censer

Antique Chinese Carving
Guardian Lion
Han Style Chimera Censer
Late 19th- early 20th century
H 7.5 in.(19cm.), W 5 in.(12cm.), D 2.5 in.(6cm.)
Condition: Excellent

 

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This large and impressive ivory, carved from a single tusk, shows a heavy patina on its golden surface, partly the result of a rich stain which deepens in the recessions. This depth of color contrasted with the highly polished edges produces a handsome graphic quality in the composition. Markings are visible over the entire surface, with barred and banded striations and felicitous pairings of pattern with subject. With soaring spirals for wings and flame-like fringes of fur, the chimera is expressively detailed, an elaborate housing for a censer which is carved out of the upper half and lidded with an intricately rendered small chimera guardian. A third guardian animal clasps the side of the censer, alert and threatening.

From the Han period on, pairs of chimera--a mythical hybrid said to be descended from a lion and a dragon--were placed at the beginning of the avenue leading to the grave area of an important royal family. The chimera glorified the deceased while protecting the tomb from evil spirits, combining the features of several animals: the wings of a bird, the body and face of a lion, and the horns of a ram. The lion symbolized power, fitting the figure’s role as guardian. The ram symbolized filial piety, referring to loyalty to one’s family which continued even after family members had died and were placed in tombs. To serve these purposes, the chimera was usually carved in an energetic and somewhat aggressive pose, leaning forward with mouth open and chest out; claws extended.

  
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