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10th century, early Liao Dynasty (907 – 1125)
Northern China (Inner Mongolia?)
Gold and wood
H : 10.1 cm L : 37.8 cm D : 23.2 cm
M.C. 2003-6

This pillow is created from hammered gold leaf with incised decoration, covering a lobed wooden surface with braces evoking the head of a ruyi sceptre. This part was inserted, probably via tenon and mortise, into a square support, which rested on top of a wider quadrangular base through a cut panel. The light brown wood comes from a species of spruce in subfamily Abietoideae (Pinaceae); a material used widely throughout northern China, from Liaoning to western Inner Mongolia. A golden band, with incised floral motifs, also highlights the support.

Although very few wooden Liao pillows exist today, due to the obvious problems of preservation, a few specimens were unearthed during the excavation of several tombs in Inner Mongolia. This type of pillow has been recognised since the early 10th century in Hebei, thanks to a mural in the tomb of Wang Chuzhi, who died in 923.

The border of the pillow’s leaf is edged with faux pearl filigree. A complex and refined decoration, combining light repoussé work with chiselling, stands out against the background, created with a perloir. This is built around three circles arranged in a triangle; the cintâmani pearl forms the peak and the two phoenixes form the base. The central axis is created through a plant stem, which splits in two in order to surround each element while also highlighting the outer curve of the pillow. The two phoenixes, static and facing each other, have ample three-pronged tails, curved in such a way that each bird sits inside a medallion. This circular movement is accentuated by the atypical position of the wings; one wing is raised while the second descends, curving, to disappear behind the body.

The use of a perloir for an entire metal leaf is a legacy of the Tang, also seen in a few remarkable objects unearthed from the tomb of Yelü Yuzhi, who died in 941. This delicate technique, however, was limited thereafter to covering small surfaces with simple medallions before falling out of use.

Auteur de la notice : Gilles Béguin
Collection : Liao Dynasty (907-1125)
Mode d'acquisition : Donation of Mr and Mrs Guy and Myriam Ullens, 2003.

© Musée Cernuschi