Animal horaire à tête de dragon
Terre cuite, Moulage, Couleurs - Pigments
H. 22.6 x l. 11.5 x P. 7.3 cm
Twelve animals represented the hours of the day (in ancient times, the Chinese divided the day into twelve hours, one hour being equivalent to two Western hours) as well as the years. These shengxiao represented a cycle of 12 years, corresponding to the twelve Earthly Branches.
The animals are, in order: rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
These symbols are known to have existed in the Han period, but depictions of them only began to appear under the Six Dynasties, and were common in the funerary statuettes of the Sui and the Tang, from the 6th to the 9th centuries. They were shown in the form of human figures, standing or sitting on their heels, with the head of the animal.
The pieces are generally quite crudely made. The museum’s figures, of medium size, are of high quality in terms of treatment and expression. The concise modelling of the massive, standing body in combination with a delicately modelled head are characteristic of the style of the Six Dynasties.
Excavations rarely produce complete ensembles such as this, the pieces often breaking up in the tomb. The Cernuschi Museum has five of the figures: the tiger, expressive with its flat, mottled feline nose – because the dog, which this figure might also have been, was generally depicted with the long muzzle of the greyhound; the dragon as it still appeared in bronzes of the late Edo period in Japan; the snake, with its surprising twisted neck giving it a haughty appearance; the monkey, with a face as lifelike as a true portrait; and the rooster, with its arrogant comb.
Gilles Béguin, Le petit peuple des tombes, Paris-Musées, 2010, p.54-55.