Bronze paperweight in the form of a mythical creature

Ming dynasty, 1368 – 1644

Length: 2 inches, 5.2 cm

A bronze paperweight in the form of a recumbent mythical creature, holding a branch of lotus flowers in its mouth. The single-horned animal is depicted in recumbent position with its four legs tucked underneath the body, and its bushy tail is curled neatly around its rear haunches. Its bulging eyes, pointed ears and goatee-like beard are cast in detail. Its head is turned slightly and raised, holding a branch of lotus flowers in its mouth, including a lotus blossom, a lotus bud and leaves. The bronze has a predominately yellowish patina, with some darker areas.

 

This unicorn mythical creature, sometimes mistaken for a ram due to a similar appearance, is known as a xiezhi in China. Its ability to discern truth from lies, and its formidable habit of immediately piercing liars with its single horn, made it the emblem of a special group of court officials known as the Censoriate, and a particularly apt symbol for the Censoriate’s rank badges.[1] The lotus branch carried in its mouth further embodies purity and perfection, because a lotus rises undefiled from impure muddy waters.[2] A comparable giltbronze paperweight of a seated lion, dated to the Ming dynasty, was included in the 1986 exhibition Arts from the Scholar’s Studio.[3]

  1. Welch, P. B. Chinese Art.A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, Tuttle Publishing, 2008, pp. 131, 147
  2. Welch, P. B. op. cit. p. 27
  3. Moss, H and Tsang, G. Arts from the Scholar’s Studio, Oriental Ceramic Society, Hong Kong, no. 51, p. 90