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Archaic Jade Axe-head (yue)

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Ceremonial jade axe-head of elongated rectangular shape with flaring sides and a curved, finely polished cutting edge. The butt end has a straight, thicker edge and one sloping shoulder, presumably for hafting purposes. A hole has been drilled from both sides to leave a slight ledge inside. The softly polished lustrous stone is greenish-yellow in tone with areas of black, brown and cream suffusions and veining.

Length: 14.5cm

Provenance:
Robert H. Ellsworth, New York.

Exhibited:
London, 2016, Eskenazi Limited

Published: 
Christie’s, New York, The Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth Part III – Chinese Works of Art: Qing Ceramics, Glass and Jade Carvings, 19 March 2015, number 466.

Eskenazi Ltd., Early Chinese art from a private collection, London, 2016, catalogue number 4.

Similar examples: 
Hamada Kosaku, Yuchikusai zo kogyoku fu, (Early Chinese Jades in the Collection of the Late Riichi Uyeno), Tokyo, 1925, plate 4, number 6, also with a sloping shoulder at the butt end.

Mou Yongkang et al. ed., Zhongguo yuqi quanji 1, Yuanshishehui, (Chinese Jades, Early Cultures, volume 1), Shijiazhuang, 1992, page 27, number 33, for a larger jade axe with two apertures, of the Dawenkou culture, from Dadunzi village, Pi county, Jiangsu province, now in the Nanjing Museum collection.

Lü Changling, Shandong wenwu jingcui, (A Selection of Shandong Cultural Relics), Beijing, 1996, number 1, for a comparable axe of the Dawenkou culture, excavated in 1972 at Dongjiacun, Zhangqiu county, Shandong province; also, Liu Zhenqing ed., Qi Lu wenhua, dongfang sixiang de yaolan, (Qi Lu Culture: The Cradle of Chinese Thought), Hong Kong, 1996, number 16. 

Such Neolithic jade axes were clearly important ritual objects, both in life, as signifiers of power and status and also in death, forming a key part of burial goods in some of the early Chinese cultures. According to Jessica Rawson, axes of ‘strongly rectangular form are found in the Dawenkou and Longshan cultures of Shandong and Jiangsu, and sometimes in cultures further south, which are related to the Liangzhu culture.’1 See op. cit. page 169 for a discussion of the Liangzhu culture tomb at Zhejiang Yuhang Fanshan, in which were discovered one jade and twenty-four stone axes, with the former being placed near the body and the latter by the feet.

A jade axe from the Liangzhu culture excavated at Fuquanshan, Qingpu, Shanghai, together with its fittings, the top and bottom jade fittings for the shaft, was included in the exhibition at the British Museum, Treasures from Shanghai, Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Jades.2

1 Jessica Rawson, Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing, London, 1995, page 171.

2 Jessica Rawson ed., Treasures from Shanghai, Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Jades, London, 2009, number 7.