Lot 30: PAIR OF PLAQUES IN WHITE JADE IN THE STYLE OF THE STEPPE
December 3, 2016
Vienna, Vienna, AustriaLive Auction
Jade. China, Early Western Han period, 2nd - 1st century BC
This magnificent pair of rectangular plaques carved in pure white jade reflects the taste for the exotic which was highly popular in early Western Han China, when the influence of the Steppe animal art was strong on the jades carved in that period.
The two plaques are in fact decorated in low relief with a mirror image of two addorsed and beaked ungulates with the hindquarters rotated by 180°: the tail of the animals are shaped as raptor's heads. This taste for composite animals which are often represented as twisted in unnatural postures is typical of the Steppe art and was introduced into China from the Northern territories inhabited by semi-nomadic tribes during the Eastern Zhou period: at the beginning of the Han dynasty, this peculiar style and its rich imagery was amply used on carved jades of the period.
This pair of plaques -which, on the back, are provided with two loops each to secure the ornaments on a belt- represent a rare case of imitation in jade of accessories which were more commonly cast instead in metal. The motif of the addorsed ungulates is in fact found on metal plaques excavated from sites in Liaoning and Ningxia provinces: these plaques were probably produced in China and then traded or exchanged with the northern populations of the steppe area. Plaques in jade carved after metal models were on the contrary most likely created for the members of the Chinese nobility who had a strong fascination for these motifs of foreign origin.
For a thorough discussion of this type of plaques, see J. Rawson, Chinese jade. From the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1995, pp.308-313, where the author examines examples of similar jades from the collection of Joseph Hotung.
The metal prototypes from which these two plaques derive are illustrated in E. Bunker, Nomadic art of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes. The Eugene V. Thaw and other New York collections, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2002, pp.107-108, catalogue number 76.
Another example of jade plaques carved in the steppe animal style after metal models is offered by a pair in the collection of Samuel and Myrna Myers: the plaques are published in F. Salviati, section 'Radiant Stones' of the volume Two Americans in Paris. The quest for Asian art, Lienart, Paris 2016, no.156.
一雙长方形白玉饰 -西汉早期, 公元前2世紀
长 8 厘米; 高 4.2 厘米
LENGTH 8 CM - WIDTH 4.2 CM
From a German 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.