Lot 138. A pair of limestone guardian lions, Ming dynasty or earlier; 26in（66cm）high, including the integral base. Estimate: 50,000-70,000 USD USD. Sold for US$ 31,250 (€ 26,734). © Bonhams 2001-2018
Each carved with a leonine face, framed by a tightly-curled mane falling over the back of the well-defined muscular body, seated on its haunches with tail curled to one side, on a circular plinth, the male with wide open mouth and right paw resting on a 'brocade' ball incised with florets, the female with fangs bared and left paw subduing a playful cub, the warmly patinated brown stone with some white veining.
Provenance: Acquired in China in the 1940's by Captain James Victor Query, a United States Navy Rear Admiral in the Asia-Pacific Theater, thereafter by descent.
Note: Captain Query was a recipient of the Yangtze Service Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal among other commendations for his service in China, which ended in 1950.
According to Marianne Hulsbosch, et.al, eds. Asian Material Culture, Amsterdam University Press, 2010, p. 109, lions were first presented to the Han court by emissaries from Central Asia and Persia. With the introduction of Buddhism from India, the lion acquired mythical qualities through Buddhist symbolism, and by the sixth century AD were already popularly depicted as guardian figures, always presented in pairs, as in the present lot.
The male lion traditionally positioned on the right, sits open-mouthed with its right front paw resting on a brocade ball, while the female sits to the left with mouth nearly shut and left paw clasped protectively around a cub. Some believe that in an imperial context, the ball represents the earth while the cub represents nurturing, thereby symbolizing the emperor's dominion over his lands, and his care for his subjects.
The open and closed mouths of the male and female represent the Sanskrit vowels a and um, being the first and last of the vowels respectively, and which when put together form the sound om which expresses the absolute or ultimate reality in the Sanskrit mantra. This ties in with the male representing yang, and the female yin, together representing the totality of all things.
The narrow heads of the present lot is reminiscent of Tang dynasty models, such as the one sold in these rooms, 19 March 2018, lot 8161, and another in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art illustrated in Bradley Smith and Weng Wango, China: A History in Art, New York, 1979, p. 118. The cub and brocade ball beneath the lions' paws make their appearance around the 10th century, as in a Song dynasty wood example in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession no. 28.187.1., and a Five dynasties Yaozhou celadon example of a male lion with a ball beneath its paw, sold at Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 5 Apr 2017, lot 3214. By the Ming dynasty, the iconography of the male lion with a ball and the female with a cub, had become firmly established.
Bonhams. CHINESE WORKS OF ART AND PAINTINGS, 10 Sep 2018, NEW YORK