The Chinese zodiac is a method of counting years based on the Chinese lunar calendar which assigns every year with a representative animal in a repeating 12-year cycle. Each animal is also associated with a natural element in the Earthly Branch. The tradition of sculpting terracotta figurines into zodiac representations might have originated during the Han Dynasty. However, compared to the Han prototypes, Tang statuettes of the same subject display more elaborate features. Painted zodiac figures, such as these fine examples, were placed in wealthy tombs of the Tang Dynasty and were used as offerings serving the deceased in their afterlife.
To discover more about Chinese terracotta statuettes, please visit our relevant blog post: Terracotta Tomb Attendants.