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Archaic Bronze and Jade Dagger (ge)

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Ceremonial dagger comprising a bronze haft and a short jade blade.  The blade, with finely bevelled edges and a raised central ridge, is pierced at one end and tapers to a sharp point at the opposite end.  The greenish-blue stone has calcified in areas to creamy-white and bears criss-cross markings, possibly imprinted from contact with organic material. The haft comprises a curved handle, an undecorated pierced section and a rectangular socket, into which the blade is inserted. The handle is cast on both sides with a bird in profile with a long curling tail, in raised curvilinear lines and the socket with an animal mask with large eyes and horn, also in raised lines on both sides. The bronze is partly encrusted with a pale green malachite patina, the undecorated section bearing traces of an organic material, perhaps wood.
 

Length: 28.2cm

Exhibited:
London, 2016, Eskenazi Limited.

Published:
Eskenazi, Early Chinese art from private collections, London, 3 - 25 November 2016, number 8.

Similar examples:
Bernhard Karlgren, ‘Bronzes in the Hellström Collection’, BMFEA, volume 20, Stockholm, 1948, plate 22, figure 3; also, Ch’en Fang-mei and Mette Siggstedt, ‘The Collection of Shang Period Bronzes in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities: A Catalogue’, BMFEA, volume 77, Stockholm, 2009, page 155, number 79.

Li Chi, Anyang, Seattle, 1977, plate 7.

Dagny Carter, Four Thousand Years of China’s Art, New York, 1948, page 19b for an example in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC retaining most of its turquoise inlay; also, René Grousset, La Chine et Son Art, Paris, 1951, plate opposite page 29; also, Sueji Umehara, Yin Hsu, Ancient Capital of the Shang Dynasty at An-Yang, Tokyo, 1964, plate 36, figure 2.


Examples of closely related daggers, with bronze rather than jade blades, are well-known - both excavated discoveries and those already in various museum collections.1  It appears that such weapons were fastened to a  long pole or spear at the central undecorated pierced section and were used in  battle. A  dagger such as the present example, of the same form, but with a jade blade inserted into the bronze handle, was clearly intended for ritual purposes. This ceremonial aspect is reinforced by the elaborate handle, the deep grooves of which, forming the design of a bird, were likely to have been inlaid with precious stones, as in some of the examples cited above. Variants on the shape of the haft include a simple rectangular form, a curved handle cast with a bird motif, such as the present example, and a handle in the form of a bird, with the latter two clearly related to motifs on bronze vessels and jade carvings of the period.2

1 Ch’en Fang-mei and Mette Siggstedt, ‘The Collection of Shang Period Bronzes in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities: A Catalogue’, BMFEA, volume 77, Stockholm, 2009, pages 156 - 157, numbers 81, 82 and 83.

2 Na Zhiliang, Dictionary of Chinese Jade, volume 2, Taibei, 1982, pages 209 - 210, for examples of all three types.