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Home > Auctions > 25th February 2020 > Large Chinese Tang Zodiac Animal Figure Set

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LOT 0335

GBP (£) 7,000 - 9,000
EUR (€) 8,220 - 10,560
USD ($) 9,130 - 11,740

Bid History: 2   |   Current bid: £6,300

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Bid History: 2   |   Current bid: £6,300

Large Chinese Tang Zodiac Animal Figure Set

Tang Dynasty, 618-906 AD

An important set of twelve painted shengxiao ceramic zodiac figures, each a cloaked human body standing on a tiered pedestal base with the head of an animal from the Chinese zodiac - pig, ox, horse, ram, rooster, rat, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, monkey and dog; representing the Chinese twelve-year cycle in which each year is associated with a specific animal. 37 kg total, 44cm (17 1/2"). Finely modelled. [12]

Condition report [Click to show]

Property of a North London gentleman; formerly in the Cheuk family collection, Hong Kong, 1970s; accompanied by Oxford Authentication thermoluminescence report for one of the pieces, number C119j15.

See Michaelson, C., Gilded Dragons. Buried Treasures from China's Golden Ages, British Museum Press, 1999, pp.102-103.

The earliest known pictorial representation of the twelve-year cycle is in a Northern Wei tomb in Shandong Province; by the time of the Tang Dynasty the calendrical animals were frequently used on epitaphs and engraved on funerary steles. The Chinese term shengxiao means both birth and resemblance, as it came to be believed that a person's character was influenced by the animal symbolising their year of birth. The belief developed into believing that it was possible to gain insights into relationships and the universe and therefore into one's fate. Each of the animals also represent a specific hour, day, month of the cycle, and all these details are taken into consideration when investigating the almanac for divination purposes. There are a number of stories about the origin of the order in which the animals are placed. The most popular ones include those relating to how the Jade Emperor asked to see earth's twelve most interesting animals on the first day of the first lunar month, in which the rat gained the first position by deception, becoming the sworn enemy of the cat.