AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE AND EXCEPTIONAL JADE CARVING OF A MYTHICAL BEAST, BIXIE
AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE AND EXCEPTIONAL JADE CARVING OF A MYTHICAL BEAST, BIXIE
AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE AND EXCEPTIONAL JADE CARVING OF A MYTHICAL BEAST, BIXIE
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AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE AND EXCEPTIONAL JADE CARVING OF A MYTHICAL BEAST, BIXIE
7 More
AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE AND EXCEPTIONAL JADE CARVING OF A MYTHICAL BEAST, BIXIE

LATE WESTERN HAN DYNASTY, C. 1ST CENTURY BC

Details
AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE AND EXCEPTIONAL JADE CARVING OF A MYTHICAL BEAST, BIXIE
LATE WESTERN HAN DYNASTY, C. 1ST CENTURY BC
The stone is superbly carved in the round depicting a double-horned mythical beast in a couching position with upturned wings flanking its body, its mouth agape with a ferocious expression. The stone is of a pale greenish-white tone with areas of darkish-brown inclusions.
2 7/8 in. (7.2 cm.) long, box
Provenance
Jinhuatang Collection, acquired in Hong Kong in 1998
Literature
Teng Shu-p’ing, Collectors’ Exhibition of Archaic Chinese Jades, Taipei, 1999, no. 151
Exhibited
Collectors’ Exhibition of Archaic Chinese Jades, The National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1999, cat. no. 151

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Liang-Lin Chen (陳良玲) VP, Senior Specialist Head of Sale

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Lot Essay

AN EXCEPTIONAL JADE BIXIE

Winged beasts (lion, tiger, deer, ram, eagle… etc.) are a popular and enduring subject in ancient Chinese works of art, and exist in many different forms (as decorative pattern, flat carving or carving in the round). The most eye-catching amongst them are carvings of bixie in the round.

The term bixie first appeared in Jijiupian by Shi You in Western Han period:

‘Sheji, bixie are both names of mythical beasts… bixie means ‘warding off the wicked’. It is said that jade pendants in the form of these two beasts can help prevent adversity and provide protection.’

It is believed that lions and tigers are so fierce that they can chase misfortunes away, so they are used to guard gates or spirit ways. On stone carvings excavated in Sichuan there is a pair of tigers, one marked bimao (probably a mis-transcription of bixie); the other marked chuxiong (eliminating calamity). These terms can be used on either pairs of lions or pairs of tigers, so the term bixie is not strictly associated with lion or tiger.

The iconography of bixie and its decorative style is closely associated to that of griffin, popular in the Western Asia and Eurasia steppes, and originated in Mesopotamia in 3000 B.C. Bixie occupies a curious position in Chinese art. It is based on the imagery of a lion, a foreign animal, but has the spirit of a fierce tiger. It is often depicted alongside other exotic animals as artistic backdrops for monumental architectures, especially in the Han Dynasty where palaces, temples, shrines and tombs were often decorated with large scale bronze or stone sculptures of Weng Zhong, qilin, tianlu, elephants, camels or horses. Bixie is an important component amongst the array that make up this subject matter.

Material wise, jade bixie carvings in the round are extremely rare and precious. There are two jade bixie excavated in the Weiling tomb in Xianyang, Shaanxi province: one is striding upright, with two horns curling backwards along the head (fig. 1); the other is crouching with its head down, with two horns growing closely alongside and bifurcating at the tip (fig. 2). There is a Eastern Han jade bixie (fig. 3) in the Taipei Palace Museum with a long snout resembling either a dragon or a horse, unlike the more common tiger-like bixie with shorter snouts, and closely resembles the griffin of Western Asia.

Amongst the very few excavated and heirloom examples of jade bixie, the two examples from the Weiling tomb are dated the earliest, indicating that the production of these bixie carvings in the round began as early as mid Western Han Dynasty. Although none of the bixie carvings from the Two Han Dynasties appear identical to one another, they share these characteristic: double or single-horned, with lion or tiger head and body, goat beard and bird wings. They are also extremely fierce, powerful in musculature, gallant in stature, carved in the round and decorated with incised decoration, shallow relief, high relief and pierced decoration in precise and neat wheel cuts.

Although jade bixie have heads like a lion or a tiger, it is the tiger that most embodies its essence. In the Three Kingdoms period, Zhuge Liang in his military strategy coined the now well-known term ‘like a tiger added with wings’ to describe a general that excels at deploying his troops. The origin of this phrase can be found in his anthology Zhuge Zhongwuhou wenji, juan 4, edited by Zhang Shu (1781-1847):

Military command is the mandate to lead the three armies, and the authority of the chief commander. A general who has the command of the army and knows the essence of troop deployment to gain the upper hand, is like a fierce tiger that has been given wings and able to travel the four seas, to apply force when he sees fit.’

Zhuge Liang’s description of an able general as ‘a tiger added with wings’ is the Han Dynasty jade bixie personified.

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