Three gilt bronze and inlaid bear supports

Height: 1 1/2 inches, 3.8 cm
Width: 1 1/4 inches, 3.9 cm

Plate 1

Three gilt bronze and inlaid bear supports

China, Han dynasty, 206 BC-220 AD

Three gilt bronze supports in the shape of crouching bears, each resting one paw on the knee of his left leg, which is folded behind the body and holding his right paw up in the air, palm turned upwards. Each bear is well defined with an engraved furry mane, bared fangs and prominent ears. The eyes and the belly button are inlaid in deep blue coloured glass. The tops of the back are open and cast with a perforated lug for attachment.

These finely cast and detailed bears were intended to serve as supports for a ritual vessel, most probably a zun or wine container. A complete gilt bronze zun vessel, including bear supports to both the vessel and the stand, is preserved in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (see plate1).[1] The bears that support the tray are depicted with their right hand raised, just like the present bear supports. In Chinese mythology, bears are not only associated with the concept of great strength and power, but also with martial might.[2]

Provenance: The Estate of Robert P. Youngman

  1. Kwok, P.K.M. et al, Dialogue with The Ancients, 100 bronzes of the Shang, Zhou and Han dynasties, The Shen Zhai Collection, Singapore 2018, fig 6, p.102
  2. Kwok, P.K.M. op cit. p. 104