Brilliant gold and silver-inlaid bronzes were popular and widely distributed in China in the Warring States period, from the fifth through third centuries BC. This method of bronze ornamentation was introduced in the preceding Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC) when a diversification of style and technique in bronze manufacturing arose. The artistic and technological advancements of the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-206 BC) can be linked to the economic vitality and growing decentralization of political authority that characterized the times. The earliest metal-inlaid bronzes of the sixth century BC employed copper inlay with animal motifs that appear to derive from nomadic art traditions. Later, more abstract designs with curvilinear elements proved most popular with the Chinese. Gold and silver inlay, as well as copper, with colorful additions of turquoise, glass and even lacquer, made bronzes, previously significant chiefly for their political and religious associations, increasingly valued for their sumptuously decorative appeal as luxury items.
The design of this corner mount, which can be interpreted as either two confronted animals that share a common muzzle and mouth, or as a single animal whose body has been split, was being used to decorate bronze vessels as early as the Shang dynasty, and can be seen on two zun of thirteenth century BC date, illustrated by Jay Xu, 'The diamond-back Dragon of the Late Period', Chinese Bronzes: Selected articles from Orientations 1983-2000, Hong Kong, p. 304 (fig. 5a) and p. 305 (figs. 5b and 6). The motif is ideal not only for the sides of a vessel, but for use as a corner where the split animal can form a true angle. The present corner mount would have been from a set of four, and is identical to another in the collection of Dr. Paul Singer, which one must assume is from the same set, illustrated by M. Loehr in Relics of Ancient China from the Collection of Dr. Paul Singer, Asia Society, New York, 1965, pp. 99 and 157, no. 71, where he refers to it as one of four corners for a lacquer table and states that "there are two nearly identical objects in this country, and a rather close example in the Stoclet collection." "The two in this country," most likely referred to the pair of identical corner mounts from the collection of Stephen Junkunc IV, later sold at Christie's New York, 4 June 1992, lot 194, and now in the collection of Pierre Uldry, illustrated in Chinesisches Gold und Silber, Museum Rietberg, Zurich, 1994, no. 23. Along with the Singer and Uldry mounts, the present mount would complete the set of four. The Stoclet example, illustrated by H. F. E. Visser, Asiatic Art in private collections of Holland and Belgium, New York and Amsterdam, 1948, pls. 63 and 126, and later illustrated by Eskenazi, Chinese works of art from the Stoclet collection, 2003, no. 5, is also formed by confronted mythical beasts that share a common muzzle and mouth. But these are winged, have an arched crest rising from the top of the head and are shown with two hind legs. The design on the upper bracket is similar but not identical to that of the present and other three aforementioned mounts. Mounts of this type are also found in gilt bronze, such as a pair reputedly excavated from Jincun, Loyang, Henan province, and now in the Hakutsuri Bijutsukan, Kobe, illustrated in Chugoku Sengoku jidai no bijutsu (The Art of the Warring States Period), Osaka City Museum, p. 126, no. 211, and another single mount from the Idemitsu Museum also illustrated, no. 210.
Compare, also, the silver inlay in a very similar geometric style on the bronze bianhu in the Freer Gallery, illustrated by T. Lawton, Chinese Art of the Warring States Period, Washington, D.C., 1982, no. 10. A silver-inlaid bronze figure of a mythical winged beast from the royal tombs of the Zhongshan state, Pingshan county, Hebei province, illustrated by J. Rawson, Mysteries of Ancient China, British Museum, 1996, p. 156, fig. 2, has segmented feather inlay on the wings and exhibits a muscular stance similar to that of the animals that form the corner mounts. Rawson refers to this piece and other silver-inlaid bronze animal-form pieces as having been made either as stands or fittings for furniture. For the epitome of this concept, see the magnificent gold and silver-inlaid bronze table support and frame unearthed in 1978 at Pingshan county, Hebei province and now in the Hebei Museum, illustrated in Gems of China's Cultural Relics, Beijing, 1990, no. 69, where the square frame for the table top is supported by dragons at the corners, with phoenixes in between, all supported on a circular base raised on animal-form feet.