Until Tue, 25th Jul 2023

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Lot 29

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Lot details

Jade. China, Han dynasty, 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD

Powerfully carved standing foursquare, the neatly incised wings issuing from the chest, the body with muscular limbs and a furcated tail, the beast's head with opened jaws depicting a ferocious facial expression framed by a long beard, funnel-shaped ears, and a curved horn. The semi-translucent stone of a pale celadon tone with extensive russet shading to the lower body. With a carved and fitted wood stand.

Jade animals carved in the round were comparatively more common in the Han dynasty than in previous periods and a great emphasis was placed on the depiction of wild animals in all their ferocity. Fighting tigers, intimidating bears, fierce eagles and mythical animals carved in menacing or aggressive postures were popular and were made in bronze and jade, depicted on textiles.

This animal, with the head of a dragon, but the body and claws of a lion with large feathery wings is inspired by prototypes from West Asia transmitted to China. Recent studies suggest that the motif of such winged mythical beasts derives from cross-cultural stimulation by way of continuous trade interaction and warfare with Western Asia and in particular, the Steppe areas near China's Northern borders. See J.Rawson, 'The Han Empire and its Northern Neighbours: The Fascination of the Exotic', The Search for Immortality, Tomb Treasures of Han China, Cambridge, 2012, p.28. Images of these beasts were often placed in tombs, either as tomb guardians to protect the deceased against evil spirits, or as auspicious carvings and decoration on smaller luxury ornaments.

Compare with a jade bixie, Western Han dynasty, excavated from Zhouling County, Xianyang City, Shaanxi Province, currently in the Xianyang Museum, illustrated by Gu Fang, The Pictorial Handbook of Ancient Chinese Jades, Beijing, 2007, p.272. See also related jade bixie carvings with similarly elongated heads including: a grey and black jade bixie, Han dynasty, illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum: Jade 4, Beijing, 2011, p.178, no.236; another illustrated by Tsai Ching-Liang, Jades of Han Dynasty, Taipei, 2005, pl.126. Compare also a brown jade bixie, Han dynasty, Masterworks of Chinese Jade in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1969, pl.20.

Auction comparison: Compare a closely related jade carving of a bixie, dated Han dynasty or later, 8.7 cm long, at Bonhams Hong Kong in The Sze Yuan Tang Collection of Chinese Jades on 5 April 2016, lot 32 (sold for HKD 21,960,000).

LENGTH 14.5 cm

Provenance: Private collection of Professor Filippo Salviati.


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