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Silver-Inlaid Bronze Garment Hook
with Jade & Gold Plaques

Length: 21.9 cm. (8 5/8 in.)

Eastern Zhou, Warring States period
東周朝 – 戰國時代
5th-4th century B.C.

Only a culture immensely sensitive to couture and the decorative arts would produce such an elaborate personal adornment as this belthook. The shaft of the gently bowed bronze garment accoutrement morphs into a streamlined dragon head with upturned snout issuing from a narrow neck and terminating in a small dragon-head hook. The main décor consists of four greyish-white jade plaques carved with comma curls laid into the upper surface of the shaft alternating with gold plaques cast with small writhing dragons with beaded spines, the shaft bordered by intricately gilded and silvered angular and curvilinear designs.

An iron garment hook in the Freer collection is configured with similar jade and gold plaques arranged in an identical manner to that of the present garment hook (fig. 1); another was in the Singer collection (fig. 2); and similar gold and jade plaques, separated from the original metal garment hook also believed to have been made from iron, were in the former Carl Kempe collection (fig. 3). The gold plaques are cast in the form of intertwined dragons with small curls enlivening the surfaces while the jade pieces are carved with repeated comma curls in raised relief against flat backgrounds. Interlaced or intertwined designs were the forté of late Zhou designers and craftsmen and appear in cast gold accoutrement of the period such as belt buckles. Gold plaques for attachment to leather belts and horse trappings were also produced in this style. Bronze garment hooks with the same shaft form as the present and inlaid with jade plaques of similar form, though with more varied carved designs, are also known (fig. 4), providing a fuller context for the present garment hook.

While we are familiar with such garment hooks from burials, a poet active in the ancient state of Chu brings to light the use of such paraphernalia in entertainment for the privileged:

“The lovely girls are drunk with wine, their faces flushed and red
With amorous glances and flirting looks, their eyes like wavelets sparkle;
Dressed in embroideries, clad in finest silks, splendid but not showy;
Their long hair, falling from high chignons, hangs low in lovely tresses.
Two rows of eight, in perfect time, perform a dance of Cheng;
Their hsi-pi buckles of Chin workmanship glitter like bright suns.” [1]


1. From David Hawkes’ translation of the Zhao Hun (“Summoning the Soul”) in Ch’u Tz’u: The Songs of the South, Boston, 1962, p. 108. Hsi-pi (xipi) refers to the skin of a rhinoceros and by extension to decorative painted, carved, woven or inlaid patterning.


pvl31fig1Fig. 1: Iron garment hook with jade and gold plaques, Zhou dynasty, Warring States period, 5th-4th century B.C., Freer Gallery of Art, after Thomas Lawton, Chinese Art of the Warring States Period: Change and Continuity, 480-222 B.C., Washington D.C., 1982, no. 51, p. 101.

pvl31fig2Fig. 2: Iron garment hook with jade and gold plaques, Zhou dynasty, Warring States period, 5th-4th century B.C., after Max Loehr, Relics of Ancient China from the Collection of Dr. Paul Singer, New York, 1965, pl. 85:c, p. 107.

pvl31fig3Fig. 3: Jade and cast gold plaques, late Zhou, reportedly from Loyang, Henan province, after Bo Gyllensvard, Chinese Gold and Silver in the Carl Kempe Collection, Stockholm, 1953, figs. 2a-b, p. 63.

pvl31fig4Fig. 4: Bronze garment hook inlaid with jade plaques, late Zhou period, after Jean-Pierre Dubosc, Mostra d’Arte Cinese (“Exhibition of Chinese Art”), Venice, 1954, no. 111.

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