Excavations have revealed that these intriguing fittings are chariot ornaments once used to crown the curved ends of the yoke that was fitted around the horse's neck. Eleven related ornaments of this type were excavated from a Han tomb in Mancheng, Hebei province. According to the excavation report, these ornaments were discovered in a chariot horde in tomb no. 2, see Institute of Archaeology, CASS, ed., Mancheng Hanmu fajue baogao [Archaeological report of the Han tombs in Mancheng], vol. 1, Beijing, 1980, p. 322 and p. 323, fig. 219-1 for illustration. For a reconstructed diagram showing where these ornaments were originally placed, see, ibid., p. 319, fig. 215.
Although a small group of these ornaments are known to exist, the present pair, modeled with an elaborate feline head, are rare. Only three other closely related examples appear to be recorded. One from the collection of S.M. il Re di Svezia, was included in the exhibition Mostra d'arte cinese [Exhibition of Chinese art], Venice, 1954, cat. no. 92; the other from the collection of the Crown Prince of Sweden, Gustaf Adolf, exhibited in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1935, cat. no. 383, and illustrated in Nils Palmgren, ed., Selected Chinese Antiquities from the Collection of Gustaf Adolf, Crown Prince of Sweden, Stockholm, 1948, pl. 22, fig. 1, where the author states it came from Luoyang, Henan province; and the third, in the Stoclet Collection, is published in H.F.E. Visser, Asiatic Art in Private Collections of Holland and Belgium, New York, 1952, pl. 42, no. 57.
See also a pair of related ornaments, modeled in the form of a tiger head, in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, published in Roger Ward and Patricia J. Fidler, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. A Handbook of the Collection, New York, 1993, p. 280. Compare another type of related yoke ornaments, modeled in the form of a crocodile-like creature mask, such as a pair illustrated in Sueji Umehara, Shina-Kodo Seikwa [Selected Relics of Ancient Chinese Bronzes from Collections in Europe and America], pt. III: Miscellaneous Objects, vol. I, Osaka, 1933, pl. 49, which reportedly come from Jincun, Luoyang; another pair in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, is published in Jenny So, Eastern Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington, D.C., 1995, fig. 104; and a third pair from the collection of Grenville L. Winthrop, is now in the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts, acc. no. 1943.52.37.B.
Another type of extant yoke ornaments are modeled with a flat top instead of an animal mask, such as a gold-inlaid bronze example published in Pierre Uldry, Chinesische Gold und Silber, Zurich, 1994, cat. no. 63; a pair of gold and silver-inlaid bronze examples exhibited in Ancient Chinese and Ordos Bronzes, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1990, cat. no. 95; and another pair, offered as part of lot 251 in this sale; as well as two pairs of plain examples unearthed from the tomb of King Cuo of the Zhongshan state in 1978, exhibited in Treasures from the tombs of Zhong Shan Guo kings: An Exhibition from the People's Republic of China, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1981, cat. nos. 33 and 34.