Lot 18: CEREMONIAL NOTCHED AXE
December 3, 2016
Vienna, Vienna, AustriaLive Auction
Jade. China, Bronze age, Erlitou period, c. 2000-1600 BC
This axe has a very unique form and looks like a combination between the shape of a disc with that of a notched axe. This peculiar type of ceremonial axe makes its appearance in the initial period of the Bronze age, represented by the remains of the Erlitou culture in Yanshi, Henan province, and then disappears from the repertory of jade forms with the end of the Shang dynasty. Its ceremonial rather than functional role is stressed by the exaggerated features, especially the dramatic faceted edge and the large hole. The regular notches carved on the sides are first documented in jade axes found in sites of the late Neolithic Longshan culture (c.2500-1700 BC), in Shandong province, from where their use was most likely transmitted to the Erlitou culture in Henan province.
The axe is carved from a green variety of jade with heavy iron inclusions which create light-brown, red and yellowish nuances all over the surface of the axe. The hole has been drilled from both sides and the rim has been carefully polished, as the rest of the object. The workmanship, elongated shape and material suggest that this axe was probably crafted by some late Neolithic culture of North-west China, which copied the type elaborated at Erlitou.
A similar axe from the D. David-Weill (1871-1952) collection has been auctioned at Sotheby's Paris on 16 December 2015, Lot 43:
Another comparable example is offered by a notched axe in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (object number EA1956.1578), which has however, an unusual rounded and not faceted edge:
A number of similar axes excavated at Erlitou can be seen in the images posted on this Chinese blog:
玉戚 - 青銅時代, 二里头文化, 公元前1900-1600
长 13.3 厘米 - 宽 8.2 厘米 - 孔径 3.4 厘米
LENGTH 13.3 CM - WIDTH 8.2 CM - HOLE 3.4 CM
From an Italian collection
All jades in this catalogue will soon be published in the forthcoming jade book by FILIPPO SALVIATI: "THE MYSTERIOUS STONE - Archaic and Antique Chinese Jades from Neolithic to Han from Private Collections".
Professor Salviati teaches Chinese Art at the University "La Sapienza" in Rome, Faculty of Oriental Studies, and is one of the world's most recognized jade experts, specialized in archaic jades until the Song Dynasty. Hi-resolution pictures of all jades are to be found in our web-site, and can be enlarged so that handwork, age-related traces of weathering, as well as colors are very well recognizable.