Description: Jade. China, Late Shang dynasty, ca. 1200 BC
This small, flat pendant carved from a pale green, translucent jade is shaped like a standing bird in profile, with a modern gold mounting to wear it suspended on a chain. The contour line follows and stresses the main features of the bird, which is represented in quite a naturalistic manner: the head with the round, big eyes is slightly tilted upwards and the clawed paws are serrated as if the bird was perched on something. The tip of the short beak turns down at a straight angle, forming a hole for suspension: the movement of the beak is mirrored in the pointed tail which raises up at the opposite end of the pendant. The wings, closed and serrated to the body, are highlighted by lines and hooked, squared scrolls. The bird, which may represent an owl, is also provided with a tuft of plumes or a crest, protruding from the back of the head.
Carvings like this one were very popular at the end of the Shang dynasty (c.1600-1050 BC): many jades shaped like birds in different postures and with different features have been discovered in 1976 in the intact tomb of Lady Fu Hao, who was one of the consorts of the Shang king, Wu Ding, and who lived near the end of the dynasty (c.1200 BC) during the so-called "Anyang phase", from the name of the last Shang capital and where Fu Hao's tomb has been excavated.
In terms of iconography and style the carving is fully consistent with late Shang jades, including the raised lines which are used to stress features of the bird: the relief effect was obtained by grinding away the jade on the sides of the lines, so that they appear as raised. This technique is seen on many jades excavated from Fu Hao's tomb and it was likely derived from a similar technique employed earlier on by the Shijiahe culture (c.2500-2000 BC), centered on the middle Yangzi river region, in Hubei province.
This pendant has an exact counterpart in a similar bird-shaped jade which is part of the collections of the Shanghai Museum and on display in the 'Jade gallery'.
鳥形玉饰 - 商代晚期, 公元前 1200
高 5.9 厘米 - 宽4.3厘米
HEIGHT 5.9 CM - WIDTH 4.3 CM
From a German collection
Notes: 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".
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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.