A SILVER FUNERARY MASK
China, Liao dynasty
23,5 x 22 cm
Provenance: Italian private collection, according to the owners purchased at Christie's Amsterdam in the late 1990s.
According to the Qidan, the population of nomadic origin who led a vast empire in northern China between 918 and 1125 under the name of Liao, the preservation of human remains after death was of vital importance, as it allowed the deceased to preserve the body even in the afterlife. The remains were thus covered with metal trappings which also included a face mask, modeled according to the physiognomic characteristics of the specific person. According to the rank occupied in life, the mask could be made of bronze, silver or gold.
They were therefore rituals connected with shamanic practices typical of the Qidan, which did not fall into disuse despite the assimilation of the Chinese precepts of Taoism and Buddhism.
For a mask of this type in the Musée national des Arts asiatiques-Guimet in Paris, see C. Delacour, De bronze, d'or et d'argent. Arts somptuaries de la Chine, Paris 2001, pp. 275-277.