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Pair of Antique Fu Lions
Item No. 16736

19th Century, N/A, China
Lacquer over Wood
5.5" x 3.5" x 3.25"
( 13.97 x 8.89 x 8.255 cm)
(H x W x D)

This pair of fu lions from South China is portrayed as extremely mythical animals rather than as identifiable lions. The lion is not indigenous to China. When Buddhism was introduced to China, artists had to portray images of the lion as the defender of law and protector of sacred buildings, even though they had never seen a lion in real life. A prototypical model of the lion was adapted often based on small dogs found in China.

The artist who carved this took pair used extreme liberties in their portrayal. Since lions are guardians of Buddhism, they were often made to look fierce, but with a touch of whimsy. The artist tried to achieve a fierce stance by depicted the lions with their mouths open with sharp teeth set between fangs on the bottom, eyes bulging below furrowed bushy brows and oversized layered and incised ears sweeping back as if to pounce into action to ward off potential evil. One of the lions holds in his mouth a round free floating ball representing the pearl of wisdom. It is believed that rubbing this gem will bring good luck.

This is a pair of male fu lions, since they both hold their front paws on top of a brocaded ball which represents the jewel of the law, a pearl, or an egg. Their lower part of their heads are lined with incised fur, an incised mane flows partially down their backs, and the center of their trefoil incised tails stands upright and is centered at its bottom with a ruyi shaped decoration. The ruyi is a good luck symbol and represents the ability to have ones wishes granted.

The lions sit upon a pedestal covered by a ritual cloth with carved hexagonal shapes which represent longevity. Fu lions are symbols of superhuman strength and protectors and mounts of holy beings. Carvings such as these, or in larger sides, would appear on home altars and as decorative architectural elements.

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