• Fine Chinese Ceramics and Work auction at Christies

    Sale 2297

    Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Including Property from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections

    26 March 2010, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 1292


    LIAO DYNASTY (907-1125)

    Price Realised  


    LIAO DYNASTY (907-1125)
    Worked from thin gold sheet, with a decorative border stamped at the outer edge, the sheet crimped over the mouth, the nose, ears, eyes and brows which are incised with hair markings, as is a mustache above the mouth, with creases and wrinkles in the gold, the stamped design of the border also seen on two 'ribbons' attached to the back edges just above the ears and attached by four narrow straps of gold to a central circular medallion with stamped decoration, a bead center and outer bead border, four further straps attached to the back edge above the forehead also attached to the medallion to form a 'net' that would have fit over the top of the head
    8 in. (20.3 cm.) high, box
    Wt. 103.3 g.

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    During the Eastern Zhou period (770-256 BC) jade was used to cover the the faces of deceased members of the elite in China, a practice which continued into the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 202), and then appears to have ceased. Archaeological evidence shows that burial masks were in use in areas west of China from the second to the eighth century, which may have been the inspiration for the use of funerary masks of different metals during the Liao dynasty (907-1125). Excavations of Liao tombs have revealed masks made of copper, bronze, gilded bronze, silver, and the discovery in 2003 of the Liao dynasty tomb of the Princess of Chen and her husband, Xiao Shaoju, provided archaeological evidence of burial masks being made from gold sheet. The status of the deceased appears to have dictated which metal was used. The shape, size and details of the individualized masks also varied.

    Two gold funerary masks of a type similar to the present example are illustrated in Chinesisches Gold und Silber: Die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, Museum Reitberg, Zürich, 1994, pp. 212-3, nos. 239 and 241, as well as a similar 'net' of eight narrow straps radiating from a central circular medallion. Another was sold at Sotheby's, New York, 9 December 1987, lot 155; and two along with a 'net' were sold in our New York rooms, 1 June 1988, lot 34.

    A Technical Examination Report is available upon request.


    Acquired in Hong Kong in the 1980s.