Handle-Shaped Blade

Period: Western Zhou dynasty (1046–771 B.C.)

Date: 10th–9th century B.C.

Culture: China

Medium: Jade (nephrite)

Dimensions: L. 10 15/16 in. (26.1 cm)

Classification: Jade

Credit Line: Gift of Ernest Erickson Foundation, 1985

Accession Number: 1985.214.96


Throughout the Shang and Zhou dynasties, jade continued to be used in the creation of ritualistic objects, in particular tokens of rank and symbolic aids for the celestial journey thought to be undertaken by the dead. This pale-green tablet with a concave grip and a conical hafting hole resembles a common type of Shang and early Zhou jade handle, but its large size and fully ornamented surfaces suggest that it served as a ceremonial scepter. The two broad faces of the tablet are identically decorated with a subtlety and complexity of design that illustrates the changing techniques for jade working characteristic of the later Western Zhou dynasty. Plumed birds stand atop a kneeling anthropomorphic figure, which surmounts addorsed animal masks that face both up and down the vertical axis. The upward-facing mask seems to hold the foot of the kneeling figure in its jaws; another such mask frames the erect bird in its gaping mouth.