Ladle with Handle in the Shape of a Dragon's Head

Period: Three Kingdoms period (220–280)

Date: 3rd century

Culture: China

Medium: Gilt bronze

Dimensions: L. 14 1/2 in. (36.8 cm); W. 3 7/8 in. ( 9.8 cm)

Classification: Metalwork

Credit Line: Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1994

Accession Number: 1994.605.90


This sinuously curved ladle terminates with an open-mouthed dragon's head at the handle. The creature has two long horns, pointed ears, bulging eyes, and an attenuated snout. A small ball-like object—possibly an allusion to the flaming pearl often chased by images of dragons in later Chinese art—is caught between the two protruding teeth in the dragon's mouth. Under his chin, which curls into the suggestion of whiskers, is a small ring attached to an appendage, presumably for hanging the utensil. Similar ladles with full cups and dragon-headed handles have been excavated in tombs from the kingdom of Wu. Located in the central and lower Yangzi River valley and further south, Wu, which was supported by landowning immigrants from the north and had mercantile ties to Southeast Asia, was one of the three kingdoms that controlled China during the third century.