Bian supported with a Bird

  • China
  • Late Spring and Autumn - early Warring States period
  • 5cB.C.
  • Bronze
  • H-23.3
Catalogue Entry

This piece consists of a plate with petals at the rim supported by a bird figure standing on another plate which serves as a base. The plate supported by the bird figure has a fringed edge, and its upper surface has a ring of incised interlocking circles and leiwen motifs near the center of the plate. Each petal in the fringed edge around the plate is engraved with the motif of a pair of birds. The underside of the petaled plate shows a hexagram design around the supporting shaft, which appears to come out of the beak of the bird. The bird stands with its beak pointing straight up, and has a headdress of ribbon divided into three parts at the end. The supporting bird figure gives the impression of strength in its smooth curves; it has a thick S-shaped neck, a stout body, and sweeping up-curved wings and feathers. The bird's powerful talons hold firmly to the base, grasping raised sections of two entangled mirror-image snakes mostly shown two-dimensionally incised on the base. The flower-petal fringe of the upper plate and the body of the bird are inlaid with blue, green, and red pigment. This type of inlay is quite rare, though there are examples of pots with similar inlay work in personal collections in New York and Hong Kong. Also, a pot with similar inlay work was excavated at Baoji in Shaanxi province.*1

Motifs using birds and snakes are often seen in work from the Eastern Zhou period. A pot with a hunting scene attributed to the 5th century from Liulige tomb, Jixian, Henan Province, and a pot with an animal pattern owned by the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University both use the motif of a bird grasping snakes. The birds in these pieces also have ribbon-like head ornaments, and their wings and tails also curve upwards. Bird wing motifs on the outside of a basin from the same tomb have feathers with similar movements to those on this bird.*2

An example of a plate supported by a man standing on the back of a rhinoceros was excavated from the Warring States tomb 126, Changzhifenshuiling, Shanxi province.*3 A solid bronze bird similar to this one is seen on top of the lid of a jar dated from the Eastern Zhou period, excavated in Lianshui Sanliduan, Jiangsu province.*4 There is a bian almost idencial to this one in the Cleveland Museum collection.*5