The only set of its type known to me in both private and museum collections.
Bowcase 56 x 36 cm
Quiver 53 x 27 cm
Leather, wood, iron, silver, gold, lacquer, pigments, plant fiber
17th - early 18th century
Ex Stephen Selby collection
Anything similar for sale?
Up until the advent of modern, fast-loading firearms, armies of archers on horseback dominated large parts of Asia and sometimes far beyond, as was the case with the conquests of Ghengis Khan.
Their success was in the fact that they moved fast even by modern military standards, and were largely able to live off the land by herding animals. They used their speed to their advantage, surrounding an enemy force and harassing them with arrows before retreating, regrouping and re-attacking. Shock combat troops like European knights had trouble against such armies because these swift archers simply wouldn’t stand there to receive the shock but disperse, shooting their arrows to weaken the enemy sufficiently for their own heavy cavalry to move in. Retaliating was also hard, as nomad armies had no fixed cities to besiege, and a conventional army could only follow them into the steppe for so long until supplies ran out.
The horse archer would carry on his belt two cases. One for his bow on the right side, and one for his arrows on the left side. The style of which reflected the taste and wealth of the owner.
A Tibetan bowcase and quiver
Presented here is a very rare matching set of a Tibetan bowcase and quiver of the 17th to early 18th century.
Both are made of lacquered leather, reinforced with wood on the inside. The surfaces are decorated with gold, black, and gradient green to yellow paints and lacquer.
The most prominent decorative feature on both pieces are large roundels, painted with a dragon on the bow case and a phoenix on the quiver. Quite befitting as it is the bow that provides power, while the arrows in the quiver are meant to fly. In addition, the bow case has a teardrop-shaped ornament with a painted phoenix. The mounts are iron, damascened with silver diaper patterns and golden Chinese longevity symbols.
The borders are very interesting as they are made up of a combination of decorative motifs found on such leatherwork, with each segment having its own theme. We are seeing swastika patterns, floral motifs, and different diaper patterns of several forms. All the decoration is very well done with precise and fine lines.
A bowcase much like ours is seen worn on a photo in a photo titled “Soldiers dressed in uniform of Tibetan and Mongol army” from The Tibet Album in The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. The description states that they are dressed in 17th century Tibetan/Mongol army uniform at Dzonggyap Shambe festival, Lhasa, 1937. Photo by Hugh E. Richardson.
Provenance & exhibition history
From the collection of Stephen Selby, a prominent author on Chinese archery. Exhibited at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense in 2008.
A few separate bow cases and quivers are known in this style, all in private collections. This is the only matching set that is decorated with roundels and gradient borders that I know to exist. Both the quality of execution, as the choice of designs with a border that combines a large number of designs are remarkable.
I believe the bow case probably once had a boss similar to the large bosses on the quiver, they usually do, and that there was an additional boss in the center of the cross-straps.
There are some tears here and there, mainly to the edges, but for something that was worn at the hip of someone traversing great distances on horseback over the Asian plains, the set is in a very good state of preservation.
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