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Archaic Jade Sword Guard
青玉螭紋劍飾

Length: 6.4 cm. (2 1/2 in.)

Western Han dynasty
1st-2nd century BCE

 

(NOTE: Further information is provided below the detailed images.)

Details:

 

 

Only the rudiments of the iron blade remain with notable impressions of the textile in which it had been wrapped. Although cracked in areas, likely due to the expansion or oxidation of the iron, the jade endures, its power undiminished. The ancients believed that jade could preserve life after death, and here it does provide a window to antiquity, into the world of early Han dynasty art and aesthetics. The jade combines two distinct approaches to Han-period sculpture, ornament, and content: firstly, a boldly carved high-relief or three-dimensional image, a qilong in this case, that integrates abstraction with a sense of naturalism and, secondly, an incised, linear representation, here the ubiquitous taotie mask. Jade sword guards like the present, some almost identical, are held by such museums as the Palace Museum in Beijing (fig. 1) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art (fig. 2), the latter with a degraded iron blade attached similar to the present. Further similar jade guards also adorning iron blades were discovered during the excavation of a 2nd-century BCE royal tomb in Guangzhou, Guangdong province (fig. 3) and support a Western Han date for the present jade. This find from the tomb of an individual of such high rank suggests the great regard in which these weapons and their jade accoutrements were held.

 

Fig. 1: Jade sword guard, Western Han, 2nd c. BCE, Palace Museum, Beijing, after Gugong bowuyuan Iidai yishuguan chenliepin tulu, Beijing, 1991, no. 492, p. 95.

 

Fig. 2: Jade sword guard and iron sword, Western Han, 2nd c. BCE, after Asian Art in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery: The Inaugural Gift, Washington D.C., 1987, no. 70, p. 114, detail.

 

Fig. 3: Jade sword guard and iron sword, Western Han dynasty, from the tomb of Zhao Mo, 2nd king of Nanyue (d. 122 BCE), after Nanyue wangmu yuqi, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, 1991, fig. 83.

 

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