Although resembling the beast-mask handles on metal vases from the Zhou and Han dynasties, the present lot is very unusual for its large size and a long rectangular tenon at the reverse. Its damaged lower jaw likely once had a circular loop, which would have suspended a loose ring. Large mask-form fittings of this type are known to have been used as ornaments decorating the outer coffin in imperial or aristocratic tombs. Compare a related fitting of larger size, modeled in the form of a mythical beast mask suspending a loose ring, also set to the reverse with a long tenon, discovered as one of the eight masks decorating the outer coffin in the tomb of a king from the Zhongshan State during the Warring states period, in Pingshan county, Hebei province, included in the exhibition The Cultural Relics and Art of the Ancient Zhongshan Kingdom, Shanxi Museum, Taiyuan, p. 132 (above).
See also a pair of related fittings of similar size, attributed to Warring States period, each set with a tenon to the back, reportedly discovered at Jincun, Luoyang, illustrated in William Charles White, Tombs of Old Lo-Yang, Shanghai, 1934, pl. 103, where the author notes that the pair are said to have been attached on each side of an outer coffin, p. 82; and another related bronze fitting of a larger size, attributed to the Eastern Zhou dynasty, 3rd century B.C., exhibited in Ancient Chinese and Ordos Bronzes, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1990, cat. no. 76. Stylistically, the beast head on the present lot can be compared to a small gilt-bronze mask, similarly rendered with two large ears flanking a pointed horn, attributed to the Han dynasty, exhibited in Kandai no bijutsu [Arts of the Han dynasty], Municipal Museum of Fine Art, Osaka, 1975, cat. no. 2-88; one in the Röhsska Museum, Goteborg, exhibited in Mostra d'arte cinese [Exhibition of Chinese art], Venice, 1954, cat. no. 82; and another on a bronze belt hook, also attributed to the Han dynasty, illustrated in Bernhard Karlgren, 'Chinese Agraffes in Two Swedish Collections', Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, no. 37, Stockholm, 1965, pl. 78, fig. S6W.