Two rare Chinese Taotie knives
China or Vietnam, late 19th/early 20th century
L. 42 & 27 cm
The true origins and purpose of these knives are unknown. Were they used for rite and ceremony, theater, as a status symbol, or perhaps some dark magic?
The eye-catching orange visage that comprises the wooden pommel-cap of these mysterious knives is reminiscent of the taotie that decorates ancient Chinese bronzes of the Shang-dynasty, typically depicted with bulging eyes, thick brow, and with the animal’s lower jaw missing. The pommels larger sections have been carved to convey the faces of a demon with similarly enlarged eyes, as well as stretched scrolling ears, sharp teeth, and an unnerving grin. They have eyes mounted on springs, that jiggle when the knives move even the tiniest bit, and the respectively spirally and vine-motif carved hilts, scalloped wooden guard and red-painted scabbard for the large knife, and the guard made of a Yunnan province penny for the smaller knife, add further to the enticing aura of these pieces.
- With Runjeet Singh, London
- Private collection, the Netherlands