Bronze owl mask

Width: 2 5/8 inches, 6.7 cm
Height: 2 inches, 5 cm

Bronze owl mask

China, Shang dynasty, circa 1600-1046 BC

A bronze mask applique in the form of a stylised owl face with huge, round eyes and a pointy beak. Two small, triangular ears protrude from the top. The back is fitted with a loop for application. The mask is covered in an attractive ‘malachite’ and ‘ruby’ patina, with very small areas of ‘lapis lazuli’ on the beak.

Bronze owl-shaped vessels are well known in the vocabulary of shapes in the Shang dynasty. The owl features in Chinese art well before this time; owl motifs are one of the most prominent. yet mysterious images and it can even be said that the owl mask rivalled the taotie monster mask on bronze vessels of the Shang dynasty. Exactly how this attractive mask was used remains a mystery. It was obviously meant to be attach ed to another body, but this could be in another material, such as ceramic, lacquer or leather. A comparable roundel, featuring a ram’s head, is in the Sze Yuan Tang collection [1]. The author states it is “…most probably a decorative trapping fora horse”.[2]

Provenance: Josette and Theo Schulman collection, France, acquired in the 1960s or 1970s

  1. Xueqin, L. The Glorious Traditions of Chinese Bronzes, Singapore, 2000 no. 26, p. 89
  2. Xueqin, L. op. cit. p. 89