Set of 12 Zodiac Figures

set of 12 Zodiac FiguresYuan dynasty

Set of 12 Zodiac Figures

Yuan dynasty (1280-1368) / Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Stoneware with green and amber glazes and polychrome pigment.
8.75 x 2 x 2.625 inches


This set of twelve zodiac figures is created with a method from the Tang dynasty whereby the figure's body is glazed, then fired. Additional details such as the face and hands are painted after firing to enable a greater level of specificity. Each figure holds an animal of the zodiac: a rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, or pig. Each animal represents a period in the lunar calendar as well as particular years, times of day, and astronomical constellations. Each animal is also endowed with certain traits that are used to tell fortunes and to indicate personal characteristics. The Chinese zodiac with animals is an ancient imagery, being described in documents as early as the 3rd century B.C.E. and represented in wall paintings of the 6th century.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, object 02.18.730

--K. Johnson Bowles, 2006, Reflecting Centuries of Beauty: The Rowe Collection of Chinese Art