Artistic Styles of Jades from the Warring States Period to the Han Dynasty
The primary aesthetic goal of both Warring States period and Han Dynasty jades was dynamism. However, the preferred design paradigm for the Warring States period was the serpent, while the Han Dynasty favored the beast paradigm. As human vision perceives serpents as two-dimensional flat objects and beasts as three-dimensional figures, to create their respective dynamic effects, Warring States period jades typically used winding lines to trace serpent outlines on flat pieces of jade material, thereby conveying a sense of fluid motion through the sinuous, twisting shapes. By contrast, Han Dynasty jades were primarily crafted from material with weightiness and volume, upon which the distorted bodies of beasts were carved in relief to induce a sense of fullness and strength. Therefore, the jade styles of the Warring States period and the Han Dynasty can be respectively classified into the following two paradigms: the two-dimensional serpent silhouette paradigm, and the three-dimensional distorted beast body paradigm.
Changes in the accompanying openwork in response to differences in design paradigms can also be noted among the exhibits. Warring States period openwork generally covers larger areas and is more orderly, while Han Dynasty openwork is characterized by its thinness and sharpness. Although the changes are minor at most, the resulting visual effects are distinctly different, and further contribute to the clear contrast in aesthetic styles between these two eras.
Jade Bird Pendant
Middle Warring States Period
L 8.6 cm, T 0.6 cm
Late Western Han Dynasty to Eastern Han Dynasty
L 7.3 cm, W 4.7 cm
Jade Dancer Pendant
Early to Middle Western Han Dynasty
L 6.0 cm, W 2.8 cm, H 0.4 cm
Similar Sinuous Body Shapes
The aesthetic goal of jades in both the Warring States period and the Western Han Dynasty was the pursuit of dynamism, and because wave-like sinuous body shapes induce strong visual dynamic effects, jade dragons, phoenixes, and sacred beasts were all designed with twisting body shapes for effect.
Distorted Body Forms that Defy Physiology
This jade bear has been twisted into an impossibly distorted body form, in order to convey a sense of muscle tension and dynamic strength. A closer look at the spine reveals its physiology-defying curvature, as it extends into the inner side of the bear’s left hind leg. The orientation of the left and right hind legs is similarly incongruous. However, although this design defies reason, it perfectly achieves its aesthetic objective in creating a strong sense of dynamic movement.
The Power of the Tilt
Why does the light, lifting dancer appear to step to the left? This is because the main form of the dancer is in the shape of a triangle, thereby producing an uplifting effect, while the sinuous, wavy line created by the long left and right sleeves induce a sense of flowing, undulating rhythm. In addition, the curves extending from the head and waist to the hem of the robe can generate directional tension towards the left. Thus, the light, narrow-waisted, willowy dancer appears to rise up in a flowing, airy dance.
What is a She Thumb Ring-shaped Pendant?
Why is this artifact termed a "she thumb ring-shaped pendant"? Because its design stems from jade she thumb rings, which were originally worn on the thumb to hook the bowstring when shooting an arrow. The main body of the thumb ring is kernel-shaped, tapering to a sharp end, with a central hole to fit over the thumb. On the outer edge, a small reverse hook serves to draw the bowstring. Once the decorative divine beasts on the periphery of the she thumb ring-shaped pendant are removed, we can clearly see the original form of the she thumb ring, from which this type of jade pendant derives its name.
The Function of the Belt Hook
The function of the belt hook was to hold a belt together, a role similar to that of the modern belt buckle. The short round shaft at the bottom was connected to the belt, which would be wound around the waist and then affixed to the small hook at the end of the belt hook. Although belt hooks were a necessary component of clothing in ancient times, jade belt hooks were not commonly available, and were exclusive to only the highest of nobles. As a result, the divine beasts carved in relief on jade belt hooks were particularly elaborate, strongly conveying a sense of dynamic beauty.
Understanding the Original Form of this Jade Seal
This jade bear has a lithe and athletic body form that emanates strength and beauty. On closer inspection, it can be seen that the ends of the jade platform underneath the jade bear are rounded on one side, but smooth and even on the other. This indicates that the jade bear was originally part of a jade scabbard slide that was broken for some reason, and the rounded end was preserved by later peoples, who smoothened the broken end and fitted the entire artifact into a square metal base to achieve its present form.
Our visual senses have a preference for stability and balance, and so when viewing the two orientations of this jade artifact, we will prefer the orientation in which the longer side constitutes the base and the shorter side is on top, thereby achieving maximum balance and symmetry. But a closer examination of the patterns on the artifact reveals that the opposite orientation is the one intended by the original creator. This is because the aesthetic goal of Warring States period jade was to achieve dynamism, and this form allows for a greater dynamic effect.