The design difference between Spring-Autumn and Han Dynasty jade tiger plaques

The jade tiger plaques in the Spring-Autumn period are carved with symmetrical motifs on both sides of the jade tiger plaques while those of the Han Dynasty are carved with different motifs on each side. In terms of artistic design, the jade tiger plaques of the Spring-Autumn period are a two-dimensional presentation while the Han Dynasty jade tiger plaques are a three-dimensional presentation. (The one on the left and the one below are the Han Dynasty jade tiger plaques from The National Palace Museum, the bottom left is the jade tiger plaque of the Spring-Autumn period from The Palaceantique Collection USA).

Eastern Han Dynasty Emperor Kwan -Wu「光武御製」Scripted Eagle-Shape Jade Ink-stone Drops, H.15cm, L.18cm,1000grams.

Inkstone drops are also known as water droplets or book drops. Inkstone drops are one of the most indispensable items in addition to the brush, ink, paper, and inkstone for the literati for two thousand years in Chinese history.  In the Han Dynasty, inkstone drops were mostly in the shape of turtles, snakes, bears, and sheep.  The Palace Museum in Beijing has kept a 7cm long, 5.6cm high, and 1.6cm in diameter simple and unsophisticated sheep-shaped pale-tone jade inkstone drops of the Han Dynasty.

With delicate relief carving from a gem-quality mutton fat white jade, the object has the form of inkstone drops. The outline of the motifs of this spectacular artwork is depicted in black color. Viewing the overall shape presentation, it is seen that a mother eagle which carries her child eagle on the back.  The child eagle raises its head slightly, full of the sensation of happiness. Underneath the tail of the mother eager is a standing young pixie opening the mouth on the grin, showing pitiful appearance.  The mother eagle is slightly bent back her head, staring at both the child eagle and the young pixie, to be sure that they are well cared for and undoubtedly safe.

The theme of this artwork perfectly matches the Chinese philosophy of “Care for your own aged parents and extend the same care to the aged parents of others; love your own young children and extend the same love to the children of others”( from the Mencius, King Liang-hui ). According to the Book of the Later Han, Emperor Guangwu himself admires Confucianism very much, is it possible that the theme of this artwork originated from Emperor Guangwu himself? In addition, the artistic conception is in line with Emperor Guangwu’s economic policy to pay attention to people’s livelihood and people’s rest as described in the historical records.

On the surface of the carving, it is seen that the left and right wings on both sides of the jade eagle are surrounded by the motif of dragons, furthermore highlighting the royal dignity and auspiciousness of this eagle shape inkstone drops.  As far as antiquity evidence is concerned, it has differential weathering, additive crystals, and diffusive markings with dark russet.

In terms of jade culture-related historical significance, the fork- shape tail design of this eagle- shape ink-stone drops provide an explanation to the so-called handle-shaped jade nobles from the tomb of Fuhao.  The handle is itself the tail of a mysterious bird of the Shang Dynasty as shown in the eagle- shape inkstone drops.

Above all, the scripts「光武御製」has provided the most important evidence in the authentication of this object, the font style of the Guangwu imperial inscriptions of this object is perfect matches those of the jade paperweight from The Palace Chinese Antique Jades Collection USA and two Eastern Han containers from The Rushihai collection Taiwan.  Judging from the criteria of high quality of jade, artistic elegance, and historical significance, this Eastern Han eagle-shape ink-stone drops is definitely a must item for connoisseur collectors.

皇廷拍賣公司2021年春季交易會環球徵集, Royale Auction 2021 Spring Fair Global Call

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