Four thousands years ago, a remarkable culture emerged on the steppes and in the mountains to the north of China's Great Wall, in what is now Inner Mongolia. Focusing on herding and hunting from horseback in addition to agriculture, the Northern Zone, as it is called by some scholars, produced a stunning art suited to an equestrian culture.
Lightweight and portable, small in scale but intricate in design, the sumptuous belt plaques and buckles, as well as glittering appliqués for clothing in gold, silver, and bronze reflect cultural beliefs, clan affiliations, and rank. The accompanying horse gear, bits, strap crossings and bridle ornaments, as well as chariots and cart fittings, are similar in materials and decor. All these pieces bear motifs featuring wild animals and birds of prey of the region. Tigers, boar, deer, ibex - as well as some domestic animals such as camels, horses, donkeys, and yaks - are rendered with exquisite artistry. Even the sturdy short swords and exotic curved knives bear animal ornamentation on their hilts and pommels. Separated by language, beliefs, and life styles, the peoples of the Northern Zone and the Chinese of the Central Plains developed an uneasy but mutually advanced relationship. Chinese luxury goods like cotton, silk, and lacquer moved to the north, while furs, semiprecious stones (particularly the highly prized jade), horses, and stringed instruments flowed to the south. Ideas and social concepts shifted as well, for Chinese princesses were married to the north in political alliances while their northern counterparts have been identified in aristocratic tombs in the south. As a result of this traffic, northern tribes began to follow the burial customs of the Central Plain, interring the prestigious cast bronze ritual vessels with their chieftains. The rulers of the Central Plain, in turn, incorporated various northern animal motifs in their art and adopted some ceremonial practices. They began to use jingles and rattles, and learned the horsemanship and cavalry strategies that had brought such success to the northern tribes. Lavishly illustrated, Ancient Bronzes of the Eastern Eurasion Steppes is the first major volume devoted to the study of the art of the Northern Zone. It includes a dramatic account of the Western medical workers and teachers who fist collected these works early in the twentieth century, as well as an up-to-date account of Chinese excavations in the area, bases on notes by the eminent Chinese archaeologist Wu En. Mr. Wu is himself descended from these peoples. Diagrams and photographs of recently opened tombs are os special interest, and full metallurgical analyses of many pieces are provided, along with an appendix of forgeries that will be of inestimable value to scholars, collectors, and dealers. A comprehensive index and bibliography round out this unique contribution to knowledge about the arts of asia.
Published by The Arthur M. Sacler Foundation, New York, 1997
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