Description: Jade. China, Late Western Zhou period, 9th century BC
This huang or arched-shaped pendant offers a good example of the level reached by the jade carving tradition at the end of the Western Zhou period. The ornament is carved from a very good quality of green jade with no major inclusions, so that the colour is even: the only exception are the whitish patches scattered here and there and the ivory-coloured areas near the edges, where the stone has altered during burial. Both sides are incised with the same pattern: two stylized and coiled dragons with big heads carved near the edges, coupled with two human heads engraved as mirror images on the sides of the central axis. The pattern is more clearly seen when the huang is oriented with the extremities pointing up: in this case, the indentations carved on the border and at the edges become consistent element of the dragons' heads: the short tips look like horns while the v-shaped projections on the short sides recall a stylized crest. The pattern is rendered through double incised lines, which give more emphasis to the motifs: the jade has also been painstakingly abraded around certain details - the eyes of the figures, the scrolls of the dragons' snouts and the ears of the human faces - so that the motif appear more vivid and as in low relief, especially when the light hits the surface of the jade at certain angles. A number of regularly spaced cut-outs help to visually differentiate the motifs and emphasize the outline of the dragons and human mouths. A fault line running vertically through the head of a dragon is carved on one side of the huang and near one edge: it was probably created by mistake during the initial cutting and shaping of the ornament.
It is at the end of the Western Zhou and during the transition to the following "Spring and Autumn" period (770-475 BC), as the first half of the Eastern Zhou rule is known, that the openwork technique started to be used with increased frequency on carved jades. Examples from the archaeological records of huang pendants worked in openwork are offered by the jades found in the richly furnished tombs of the marquises of the Jin state and excavated at Tianma-Qucun, Beizhao, Quwo, Shanxi province. Particularly relevant is the large pectoral discovered in tomb M31 of this site: it is formed by six huang alternated with chain of beads and three of the arched pendants are carved in openwork. Further examples have come to the light from the tombs excavated in 2005 and 2006 at Yangshe village, Shicun, still in Quwo county, Shanxi province, which have yielded jades worked in openwork, including huang pendants. The archaeological report, with pictures of some of the excavated objects, can be read at this link:
The closest comparable example from private collections is a very similar huang pendant carved with the same pattern of dragons and human heads and cut-outs, in the Aurora Foundation collection (Taiwan and China, with its own museum in the city of Shanghai), image at this link:
人龙纹玉璜- 西周晚期, 公元前9世紀
宽 14.3 厘米
WIDTH 14.3 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.