Height: 21.700 cm
Asia OA 1883.10-20.5
Room 33: Asia
Bronze leaping feline
Eastern Zhou dynasty, 4th-3rd century BC
A lively creature inlaid with gold and silver
This bronze cat-like creature stands arched, with tail pointing to the sky, head back, bared teeth and bulging eyes. The figure is beautifully inlaid in gold and silver with stylized birds and snakes, as well as abstract designs including scrolls, curved lines and tear shapes.
Inlay decoration was used in China by the late Neolithic period (before 1500 BC), but gold and silver inlaid bronze did not come into regular use until the fifth or fourth century BC. By this time personal display had become an important status marker, and bronze was competing with painted lacquer and colourful textile furnishings.
Inlaid items were generally small, since such decoration entailed long and difficult work. Strips of gold and silver were inlaid to the object and then polished. Particularly during the Eastern Zhou period (771-221 BC) vessels were inlaid with precious metals; the technique was also commonly used on weapons, chariot parts, furniture fittings and garment hooks. This leaping feline was probably made as a tray support. Inlaid animal figures were also made for use as table legs and corner fittings.
J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)