An Asian Bestiary | Big Cats
CHARM, 'THE SITTING PANTHER'
Catalog No: 70 / 701
According to late 19th century ethnographers, the people along the Amur River believed that the world is full of spirits, who interact with humans for good or ill; 'The Sitting Panther' represents one of these spirits. Shamans are intermediaries able to communicate with these spirits through possession and trance in ways that most humans cannot. Because the journey to and within the spiritual realm is thought to be perilous and difficult, the spirits of wild animals and the shaman’s own tutelary spirit assist the shaman to enter this realm.
PAINTING, TIGER OF T'ANG YIN
Catalog No: 70 /11977
Although the fearsome tiger (Panthera tigris) has vanished from most of the Chinese landscape, it remains an important symbol of power, prowess, and grandeur. In this painting, as in many Chinese portrayals, the tiger is depicted as a king of animals, with the four stripes on the tiger’s forehead forming the character wang or “king.” The inscription attributes the painting to T’ang Yin, a prominent scholar and painter, and one of the “Four Masters of the Ming Period,” but this is unlikely because having taken the pen name of “Eldest Tiger” (Bo Hu), T’ang seems never to have painted a tiger. Berthold Laufer, who collected this painting at the turn of the last century, made a careful study of the paintings he purchased from dealers and aficionados but in this instance, the young collector was probably naïve.
 
AMULETS, TIGER TEETH (2)
Catalog No: 70.2/ 1622 AB
In the Bunan village of Take-tonpo in central Taiwan, the parents of baby placed these teeth from a Formosan Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulas brachyurana) around their child’s neck to celebrate the child’s first full month of life. Amulets made from the remains of wild animals taken in the hunt were hung on a vulnerable young baby as necklaces or bracelets so that the animal’s fierceness would protect the child from harm. Although wild animal parts are no longer used, Bunan still protect a month-old baby with amulets.
AMULET, ENGRAVED
Catalog No: 70.2/ 2560
In Iran, this amulet would be worn as an armband (bazuband) on the upper arm. Inscribed with the words of Qur’an, it would tap into the power, merit and knowledge as a materialization of the words of God to provide protection, aid the healing of disease or intervene against malefic intention. The imagery of a lion against a rising sun, as pictured on this amulet, can be linked to Ali ibn Abi Talib (1st Imam of the Shi’a and 4th caliph of the Muslim community) known in Arabic and Persian literature as Asadollah (The daring lion of God) and Haydar (the King of Lions). This image often appeared in Persian royal iconography from the shi’a Safavid dynasty (16th century) onwards.
 
NETSUKE, DRAGON AND TIGER
Catalog No: 70.3/ 420
In this ivory netsuke, by the 19th century carver, Hokyudo Itsumin, the entwined dragon and tiger reflect the Taoist idea that all of existence depends on the tension and balance between opposing forces – with tiger as the material force (yin) roaring at the dragon (yang), the spiritual force. In East Asian cosmology, dragon and tiger symbolize east and west.
BOX AND GAME
Catalog No: 70.0/ 1785
This hand painted box depicts a battle between two of India’s most fearsome animals: the Elephant and the Tiger. This tiger resembles a Bengal Tiger, which can grow to over 500lbs. The card game is called Ganjifa, and is made up of 120 hand-painted cards. Little is known about the origins of Ganjifa cards, but they are believed to have migrated south from Persia to India during the time of the Mughal emperors of the 16th century. The cards are split into ten twelve-card sets, each set representing one of the ten avatars, or mythological personifications of the Hindu god Vishnu. One of the Avatars, Narasimha, is half man and half tiger and is known as the ‘Great Protector’ who defends his followers in time of need.
 
BABY'S CAP, CAT-LIKE?
Catalog No: 70 / 1562
This cap was created as a protective head cover for a Chinese baby. Fashioned from a combination of materials, including metal foil for the ears, hair for the whiskers and painted cloth, the tiger image gave the hat amuletic powers intended to protect the child from demons and other malign spirits bearing illness, disease or madness. The three-line stitching between the eyes, the ideograph wang, means King and usually appears on Chinese and other East Asian tiger representation where it underscores the power of the tiger image, strong, courageous, and severe.. The positive properties attributed to tiger parts, both as medicines and as protective talismans, have long fueled an illicit traffic in tiger teeth, bones, meat, fur, and whiskers.
TOY TIGER
Catalog No: 70 /10879
The cloth toy presents the tiger as a guardian, protective and harmless. It’s bright colors and large eyes are inviting and innocent while the toy’s wide grin conceals the animal’s notoriously sharp teeth. Tiger images in China and throughout East Asia are often deployed as powerful protectors against malevolent unseen forces. Although this tiger was collected in 1903, similar toys were produced throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.
 
TIGER SPEAR, TRIDENT
Catalog No: 70.0/ 8738
In 1928, Smith joined Chinese villagers in southeast Fujian on a tiger hunt where they deployed this trident in a successful kill. After several days of tracking and stalking their prey, Smith writes that the “hunters, armed only with their tridents, unhesitatingly entered the caves among the boulders, thrusting flaring torches of bamboo before them. By this method, they located the tiger and drove him out.” The spear reflects the strength and ferocity of the animal but also the desired dominance of the hunter over the fabled “man eater.” Replacing metal spears, sophisticated weaponry has accelerated the decline of the tiger population, now hunted to endangerment.
TALISMAN, WOODBLOCK PRINT, RESTING TIGER
Catalog No: 70.3/ 5027
The Siberian Tiger has disappeared from South Korean mountains but tigers are present in South Korean folklore and folk art as approachable icons. In the early 20th century, woodblock prints like this one would have either been hung on the house wall or folded up and carried on one’s person as protective talismans. The ideographs signify wishes for peace and good fortune while an “official” is trapped inside the spiral at the top of the tiger’s curled tail. The configuration of “insects” and “metal” inside the square on the right and the amulet writing on the tiger’s chest have magical intentions. The original block belonged to Dr. Cho Cha-ryong (Zozayong) whose writing and lectures encouraged Koreans to look with fresh eyes on folk representations of Korean tigers. This print was collected in the 1980s but this same image is reproduced in a variety of media in the early 20th century.
 
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