China, a bronze “Money Tree” Yaoqian Shu with pottery base, 155cm, 62” high,
Han dynasty (25 BCE – 220 CE)
a sculpted terracotta pottery base in the form of a tortoise with attendants and inserted
with five individual bronze pole segments with twenty eight individual hanging bronze
open work money “branches” attached in tiers, four per tier and topped with a figure
of a bronze phoenix as apex most bearing varying degrees of malachite and azurite
encrustation from ancient burial.
Formerly exhibited “Asia Week” New York City, Fuller Building, Zabriskie Gallery,
Provenance: ex New York City collection
In the late Han Dynasty tombs of western China, money was created as heavenly offerings
to grow on trees insuring that the deceased’ needs would be met in afterlife. Large money trees
are made of two sections: a sculptural pottery base and a bronze tree, whose molded, open work
branches are intricately decorated with coin motifs, mythological animals such as deer who are
associated with the magic elixir, images of Xiwangmu (Queen Mother of the Western Paradise and
holder of secret immortality) and other Daoist symbols and immortals such as monkeys who try to
steal the elixir. Because of the extraordinarily fine, open-work bronze designs, few money trees have
survived totally in tact. Our research indicates that only a hundred or so exist in tact worldwide,
primarily in institutional collections. Various complete money trees are known, but with few
exceptions the elaborate bronze upper part, cast with numerous branches suspended with coins, is
broken into numerous pieces.
A complete one in good condition is illustrated by Rawson, Mysteries
of Ancient China, p.177, No.87, which was excavated in Pengshan county, Sichuan province.
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