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Woman’s funerary finery

Woman’s funerary finery

First quarter of the 12th century, Liao Dynasty (907 – 1125)
Inner Mongolia or Liaoning
Gilded metal
H : 23cm L : 21.1cm (mask), H : 30.3cm L : 24.4cm (butterfly headdress)
M.C. 2001-5

The components of these two sets of funerary finery provide a lot of precious information on burial methods used by the Khitan elite during the Liao dynasty. The Khitan dressed mummified bodies in sophisticated funerary costumes, using some metallic elements. The Official Liao History makes only a vague mention of these funerary accessories, simply calling them “objects that cover the cadaver”. Two tombs discovered during the 1980s revealed dressed remains, preserved sufficiently well enough to verify and expand upon the few details mentioned in ancient texts (Nei Menggu, 1993).

Each of the masks in the Cernuschi Museum was created from a single leaf of hammered bronze; the particular attention paid to polishing was then completed with gilding. Funerary masks are by far the most common elements found during excavations. They are ornamented with rare details, delicately incised, so that moustaches, on their own, can definitively distinguish male masks from their female equivalents. Their closed eyelids draw an elegant sinuous line. The perforations on the mask edges were instrumental in attaching masks to mesh shrouds. The ear lobe may have been decorated with earrings; one earring, in the shape of a feline, is still in place on the female mask. Earrings were especially fashionable under the Liao, though not peculiar to the Khitan and, contrary to an opinion held widely even at the time, were very fashionable in the neighbouring Song Empire (Zhang, 1987, p.26).

Earrings or decorations of the time, the pendants shaped by two pearls of a milky material set in gold are distinctive by the unusual size of their clasps. They match a necklace created from rock crystal, amethyst and gold elements. The presence of these mixed necklaces is recurrent in Liao tombs. On the other hand, funerary headdresses are more rare: a few textile headdresses have presumably survived. Each of the Cernuschi Museum’s masks is associated with a gilded metal headdress, created with openwork panels and assembled by wire.

The feminine headdress, in gilded bronze, is flanked by high vertical wings, emphasised by a headband with rinceau decoration comparable to that on the headdress discovered in the Ar Horqin banner. It has a phoenix decoration among clouds, carefully cut and emphasised. The aggressive morphology of the phoenix is characteristic of the Liao Dynasty, but it is difficult to attribute it to a particular phase. Two headdresses of the same form were found in excavations, one in gilded bronze, the other in silk. We currently do not know of any precedent to this type of headgear.

The stylistic characteristics of this rare funerary set suggest that it dates back to the first quarter of the 12th century.

Collection : Liao Dynasty (907-1125)
Mode d'acquisition : Donation of Mr and Mrs Yves Mahé in memory of Jacqueline Simon Mahé, 2001

Parure funéraire féminine
© Musée Cernuschi