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Gilded comb top


Height: 23.200 cm (to handle)

Asia OA 1938.5-24.284

Room 33: Asia

    Gilded comb top

    From China
    Liao dynasty, 10th century AD

    The semi-nomadic Qidans (or Khitans) took advantage of the chaos that followed the fall of the Tang dynasty (618-906), taking over the northern fringe of China. They founded a dynasty, the Liao (907-1125), in what is today Inner Mongolia and regions further west.

    This decorative comb is made of silver. It has repoussé decoration of birds and flowers, enhanced by gilding. The Liao used gold and silver in great quantities for jewellery, toiletry items and textiles. Royalty and important nobles were buried with these luxurious articles. In the most spectacular Liao tomb yet to be discovered, Princess Chen and her husband were buried in 1018, with some 300 precious objects, many of them in gold and silver. There were bottles, spittoons, boots and items for personal adornment. Particularly interesting were the gold mortuary masks, which the Qidans believed would protect the dead person's facial features. The Chinese, on the other hand, historically believed that jade served this protective purpose and in earlier times covered parts of the face and corpse with it.

    Much of the gold and silver workmanship of the Liao dynasty reflected the traditions of Tang China, rather than the contemporaneous style of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1125). Several similar combs from the Tang period survive in private and public collections.

    J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


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