Tiger Head Finial

Silvered bronze and gold with areas of malachite encrustation

Warring States Period (770 BC-480 BC)

Length: 2-1/2 in


In the Warring States period (770 BC-480 BC), ancestral dwellings of rulers and significant military figures were often accompanied by nearby burials of horses and chariots. Murals and engravings depicting battle scenes and processions of carriages and horses adorned the walls of the tomb as testimony to the military leader’s successes. Acquisition of such elaborate furnishings and tomb decoration obviously required a great amount of labor and money, indicating that the military officials of the period were quite wealthy and powerful individuals.

These elaborate practices indicate that the chariot was an important symbol of the military elite in early China. Use of the chariot was a visual display of an individual’s power and position of authority within the military or court. A fitting such as this tiger head, made with valuable bronze, silver and gold would have added significantly to the authoritative presence of a commanding general on his diplomatic missions. Throughout China, the tiger is regarded as the most savage animal in the country, and its presence is synonymous with danger and terror. Images of the animal are used on shields and other weapons of war in order to frighten and overcome the enemy. As it symbolizes military prowess, courage, and ferocity, the tiger is an appropriate emblem to embellish the chariot. In our opinion, the subject matter, workmanship and condition suggest a Warring States date for this work of art.


Reference Number: 4104



Note: some wear to the gilding, as usual with possible minor restoration.

A similar example dated to the Han period is Illustrated in : Ritual and Belief: Chinese Jade and Related Arts. S. Bernstein. San Francisco: S. Bernstein, 1994. Plate 24.

An animal head finial of similar date and inlaid with silver is illustrated in Ancient Chinese and Ordos Bronzes. Jessica Rawson and Emma Bunker. Hong Kong: Oriental Ceramic Society, 1990. Page 192, plate 104.

See an Eastern Zhou period silvered-bronze dragon’s head in Inlaid Bronze and Related Material from Pre-Tang China. London: Eskenazi, 1991. Page 44, plate 9. Also, a tiger’s head bronze chariot fitting is shown on page 68, plate 23.

The symbolism of the tiger is discussed in Encyclopedia of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives. C.A.S. Williams. New York: Julian Press, 1960. Pages 394-396.


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