Strange Creatures of Chu: Antlered Tomb Sculptures of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (Department of the History of Art)
Wooden sculptures painted with lacquer and adorned with real deer antlers are a characteristic feature of Chu burials from the late Spring and Autumn period through the late Warring States period. Despite this, the sculptures have received little attention from scholars, and the source, as well as the significance of the images has not been fully explained. This dissertation attempts to unveil the mystery of these tomb images. A regional study of the sculptures reveals that significant variations of the figures existed outside of the Chu heartland, the Jiangling region of modern Hubei province, and belief in the efficacy of the images was widespread in Chu territory. Although the images have been compared to the so-called taotie mask of Shang and Zhou bronze decoration, a more likely iconographical source for the images is three-dimensional animal appendages on Spring and Autumn and early Warring States period bronzes. The form of the sculptures is based on contemporary Warring States woodworking techniques, while a panoply of bronze, textile, and lacquer designs inspired the painted decoration. Traditionally, the antlered images have been identified with specific hybrid creatures described in the Chuci or the Shanhaijing, but this dissertation posits that, although the images are in the same genre of "strange creatures" as those described in ancient texts, we should be cautious of associating them with hybrid beasts whose textual descriptions do not match the figures exactly. Finally, the significance of the sculptures is considered in light of Chu religious practices and the burial context of the figures, and it is suggested that the images served multiple functions in the tomb, both for the benefit of the dead and for the living.