The belthook is heavily cast and boldly decorated with a complex pattern of two burly dragons on a bowed shaft that terminates in a dragonhead hook at one end with the opposite end distinctly squared. The serpents comprising the decor are viewed from above, their geometricized bodies indicated by rectangular scales arranged in a step-like fashion, a dragon head at each end of the entwined mass, one facing the hook, the other pointed in the opposite direction at the end of the shaft. The head in proximity to the hook has a conspicuously feline character resulting from its almond-shaped eyes. The foreclaws are set directly behind the ears, the thick scaly body twisting in an “S” curve down the shaft with claws gripping, the body entwined with the second dragon also clawing its way along, the talons of one dragon indistinguishable from those of the other, the second dragon with a face like a taotie mask with its circular protuberant eyes, small hook-shaped brows, spiral horns, an upturned snout, and the absence of a lower jaw. The powerful decoration is in high relief and generously gilded. Accumulations of green encrustations as well as some spots of red are evident. The reverse is silvered bronze and cast with a button.
A belthook similar to the present was excavated in Pingshan county in Hebei some twenty years before the finds in that same area of the stunning princely tombs of the Zhongshan kingdom of the Warring States period, excavations that put that area squarely on the map of cultural and art historians (fig. 1). The features and execution of the present and excavated belthook—an asymmetrical design and rather convoluted composition anchored by the symmetrically placed heads, in boldly cast relief—are shared by another example, one illustrated by Jessica Rawson and Emma Bunker in Ancient Chinese and Ordos Bronzes (fig. 2), an exhibition and study that brought into brighter light at the time the importance of the inner Asian frontiers to Chinese society. The nomad penetration into China often led to cataclysm but also was not without positive effects on Chinese fashion, arts, and crafts. For example, the use of belthooks popular in China was a fashion borrowed from nomad military garb. The nomadic ancestry of the rulers of the Zhongshan kingdom is manifested in the brute strength of this style, and made even more captivating by the emphatic gold surfaces. The strong serpentine motion of the dragons, halted by the grasping claws, and moreover the blocky, geometric modeling of the stepped angular scales of the dragons, as well as the design’s emphatic hooks, are important precursors to features that
would characterize the bold sculptural style of the Western Han period.
1. Jessica Rawson and Emma Bunker, Ancient Chinese and Ordos Bronzes, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1990.
Fig. 1: Gilt-bronze belthook, Eastern Zhou dynasty, Warring States period, 4th century B.C., excavated in Sanjicun in Pingshanxian, Hebei province, after Hebei sheng chutu wenwu xuanji, Beijing, 1980, no. 110 (bottom), p. 55.
Fig. 2: Gilt-bronze belthook, Eastern Zhou dynasty, Warring States period, 4th century B.C., after Jessica Rawson and Emma Bunker, Ancient Chinese and Ordos Bronzes, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1990, no. 128, p. 210.