Spotlight on the Collection: October 2016

/ Spotlight on the Collection

About 300 BC Chinese Warring States Period 475 221 BC State of Chu Hebei province Lacquer wood antler and pigment Collection of the Art Fund Inc at the Birmingham Museum of Art Gift of Virginia and William M Spencer III AFI32000

O Soul come back!
Why have you left your abode
And sped to the Earth’s four corners?
Deserting the place of your delight
To meet with all those things of evil omen?
O Soul come back!

– “The Summons of the Soul,” The Songs of Chu

The Songs of Chu is a collection of third-century B.C. poems from the south of China state of Chu. It provides a treasure trove of information about how the Chu people lived at the time. For example, we learn that they believed the soul had two parts, one that remained on earth and one that departed at the death to be with the immortals. At the time of death, a shaman climbed onto the roof of the house of the departed and recited “The Summons of the Soul” to entice the second soul to rejoin its earthly counterpart.

Tomb guardians such as this were placed inside the doors of the tombs, either to protect the first soul of the departed, or perhaps to escort the second soul on the journey to the afterlife.