Head of Serpent, Zodiacal figure; polychromed terra cotta. This, representing God of the Constellation I, grey earthenware with white ground, painted with flesh-coloured pigments.

Snake from Set of Zodiac Figures, 618-907

Unknown artist, expand_more
Not on Viewexpand_more

The appearance of certain animals played an important role in ancient beliefs regarding omens and portents, and a complex system of thought that spanned the Han (206 BCE-220 CE), the Six Dynasties, and Tang period (618-906). The earliest appearance of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac is in funerary sculpture like these found in northern Chinese tombs dating to the Northern Wei dynasty (386-535).

Almost all early examples represent human bodies in kneeling or standing positions with animal heads. Unfortunately, few full sets of all twelve animals survive from the early period. These are typical Tang examples. They relate closely to a full set excavated near Xi'an, the ancient Tang capital, which also portrays the figures dressed in formal, long-sleeved robes. Depicted here are the cockerel, horse, snake, dragon, and monkey.

Details
Title
Snake from Set of Zodiac Figures
Role
Artist
Dimension
H.10 in.
Accession Number
50.46.197
Curator Approved

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Head of Serpent, Zodiacal figure; polychromed terra cotta. This, representing God of the Constellation I, grey earthenware with white ground, painted with flesh-coloured pigments.