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Bronze Finial with Turquoise Inlay

Height: 9.7 cm. (3 7/8 in.)

Late Shang/early Western Zhou period
11th century B.C.


This bronze attachment, likely a chariot fitting, is decorated with two dragons facing each other below four rising blades all inlaid with turquoise. A third more abbreviated dragon of C-shape, also inlaid with turquoise, graces the top of the cap. The midsection is cast with rectangular shapes arranged belt-like, pierced with two holes for attachment.

On the basis of comparative pieces from the late Shang period, it appears that the present piece would have served as a protective as well as decorative fitting for a yoke, an axel cap or possibly as one of the two finials decorating the crosspiece of a chariot. The bold relief style with large pieces of turquoise employed in the work, along with the specific form of the dragon, is comparable to late Shang-Western Zhou craftsmanship.[1] The use of turquoise in various contexts fashioned for and provided to the elite dates back at least to the Neolithic period in China, the semi-precious stone adding winning color and flare whenever and wherever it was used. The powerful decorative quality present in such a small piece as the finial here demonstrates that careful attention to detail and design at this time were likely expected and well-appreciated by the privileged recipients.


1. See a bronze yoke decoration of the late Shang dynasty in Kaogu, 1972:4, fig. 3:3, p. 27, bronze fittings also of the late Shang in Umehara Sueji’s Yinkyo, Tokyo, 1964, CLIV: 1, and a bronze ornament now in the British Museum of the late Shang/early Western Zhou published in Umehara, ibid., pl. 54, lower right, p. 106.

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