Friday 8 December 2023

An 'Ordos' Fitting Online

On sale online:
4 3/4 in. (234 total, 12.2 cm wide including stand).
Rectangular openwork panel with lioness biting the neck of a doe in a foliage setting; hook to one short edge; mounted on a custom-made stand.
Private collection, UK, acquired 1986.
Acquired from Chiswick Auctions, London, 11 December 2018, lot 131.
Private collection of Professor Kenneth Graham, London, UK.
Accompanied by the original catalogue page and a copy of the original invoice.
Atrociously bad photo, the buyer cannot see anything here. Appalling technique. Note zero provenance cited, zero detail of how it got on the market, zero detail of its collection history. The problem is that something that can only be traced (nominally, because no mention is made of any paperwork) back to a collection in 1986 cannot be legitimised in relation to the 1982 Cultural Relics Protection Law (Cultural Relics Protection Law promulgated by the Standing Comm. of the National People's Congress of the PRC, Nov. 19, 1982 - see Dutra 2004, 80-1).

The 'Ordos Culture'

 The Ordos culture was a Bronze and early Iron Age material culture group known primarily through the "ancient art" trade. Its remains are found mainly in the Ordos desert, in that big loop of the Yellow River in modern Inner Mongolia, NW China. At the time of the functioning of this group (from about 500 BCE to  the 2nd century BCE),* the Ordos Plateau was watered by numerous rivers and streams to produce rich grazing lands, and this was some of the best pasture lands on the Asian Steppe, covered by grass, bushes, and trees.  Many of the buried metal artefacts have emerged on the surface of the land as a result of the progressive desertification of the region (Bunker 2002, p. 200).The Ordos culture is known for its "Ordos bronzes" (zoomorphic figures and small plaques and fittings for clothes and horse harness being particularly collectable), blade weapons, finials for tent-poles, horse gear. Many of these items exhibit animal style decoration with relationships both with the Scythian art of regions much further west, and also Chinese art. Different authors have various ideas to which "ethnic group" mentioned in the written sources, or genetic group, they should be related.  

The material seems to fall into two main groups. The first consists of bronze items (sometimes tinned) of the 6-5th century BC, these seem to reflect a nomadic culture based on the use of wheeled vehicles rather than the mounted horse. The items found include ornamental fittings for yokes. 

Sources, wikipedia and the trade
The 4th-3rd centuries BC saw the introduction of new metallurgy and style. From this period, there is the use not only bronze but of silver and gold (or at least gilding) that appeared from the 4th century BC. This new "intrusive style" seems to relate to the appearance of the mounted-horse culture, and a disappearance of vehicle ornaments around that time and other changes in the material culture. The iconography of the artefacts seems clearly derived from Altaic or eastern Central Asian motifs from Central Asia and southern Siberia.

Sources, wikipedia and the trade

Ordos-After Ordos
The development of these styles was disrupted by the arrival of new styles that seem to be related to the emergence of the Xiongnu group here (circa 160 BC) - these are the nomads that would emerge in western Europe as the "Huns" in the 4th century AD. The artefacts of this 'Xiongnu' period were inspired by the art of the steppes and include belt plaques in the shape of a kneeling horse in gilded silver, or belt buckles with animal combat scenes. Some of these may have been made in North China workshops for the Xiongnu in imitation of steppe art (it is noted by Bunker that the design was flattened and compressed within the frame (Met Museum 'Belt Plaque in the Shape of a Crouching Horse' North China 3rd–1st century BCE)


Yan Liu, Rui Li, Junchang Yang, Ruiliang Liu, Guoxing Zhao and Panpan Tan, 2021 'China and the steppe: technological study of precious metalwork from Xigoupan Tomb 2 (4th–3rd c. BCE) in the Ordos region, Inner Mongolia' Heritage Science 9(1)

Fan Zhang 2022, 'Xianbei Zoomorphic Plaques: Art, Migration, andHuman‑Environment Entanglement' Arts 2022, 11(6), 129;

*The dates vary from author to author, based on art-historical grounds.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.