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
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.