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Mythical Figure

Asian Art

On View: Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
This large menacing creature with antlers and a protruding tongue is a guardian (zhen mu shou), often found in tombs of the Chu culture in the southern Chinese provinces of Hunan, Henan, and Hubei during the Warring States through Western Han (206 B.C.E.–9 C.E.) periods. They are found placed in the chamber of the tomb, closest to the head of the tomb occupant and facing inward toward the occupant, in order to protect the deceased. Chu culture is renowned for its elaborately carved and painted lacquer objects; designs similar to the ones on this mythical guardian are also found on Chu textiles and inlaid bronzes of the same period.
MEDIUM Wood, horn, lacquer, and polychrome
  • Place Made: China
  • DATES 5th–3rd century B.C.E.
    DYNASTY Eastern Zhou Dynasty
    PERIOD Warring States Period
    DIMENSIONS assembled: 41 5/8 x 30 1/2 x 12 3/16 in. (105.7 x 77.5 x 31.0 cm)  (show scale)
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1999.20a-d
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Gisele Croes, purchase gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leon Black, Dr. and Mrs. Richard Dickes, Mr. and Mrs. Rohit Desai, and Brooklyn Museum Collection
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION This figure is from the Chu culture, which is renowned for its remarkable lacquers. The Mythical Figure exemplifies the more sculptural emphasis on this tradition. Representing an imaginary animal, the work is also significant in regards to funerary practices of the Chu culture; the antlers, protruding tongue, and composite human-dragon features function to protect the deceased and connect the visible world with the realm of the spirits. In addition, the Chu lacquer tradition reflects enormous cross-influences between media. The ornament in red, brown, and black that decorates the Mythical Figure's surface reiterates the complex patterning of textiles and inlaid bronzes.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
    CAPTION Mythical Figure, 5th–3rd century B.C.E. Wood, horn, lacquer, and polychrome, assembled: 41 5/8 x 30 1/2 x 12 3/16 in. (105.7 x 77.5 x 31.0 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Gisele Croes, purchase gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leon Black, Dr. and Mrs. Richard Dickes, Mr. and Mrs. Rohit Desai, and Brooklyn Museum Collection, 1999.20a-d. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1999.20a-d_SL3.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 1999.20a-d_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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