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White Jade Sword Chape; 4th - 1st century B.C.E.

White Jade Sword Chape; 4th - 1st century B.C.E.

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Chinese: Hardstones: Pre AD 1000: Item # 1432807
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Object: Scabbard Chape
Period: Late Warring States period – Western Han dynasty
Date: 4th – 1st Century B.C.E.
Medium: Nephrite
Dimension: Height x Width x Depth; Approximately 4.5 cm x 5.5 cm x 1.75 cm
Description: Carved from white jade, this chape is of the typical flattened, trapezoidal shape that is thick in the center, but thin and rounded at the sides. Three drill holes can be seen at one end which would have allowed the piece to be attached to the scabbard. The surface has been carved with “C hooks” in very shallow relief, and still retains much of the luster of its original polish. Some burial alteration has occurred, including some discoloration and slight chipping at one end. A similarly shaped chape with a different surface pattern can be seen in Asian Art in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery: The Inaugural Gift (item 66). Chapes with similar motifs are found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Ashmolean Museum at the Yousef Jameel Center for Islamic and Asian Art.

“The scabbard chape, a sword ornament of the Han dynasty, was used to protect the tip of the iron sword that was inserted into the hole drilled on one of the flat, plain edges. The present example has the typical trapezoidal shape of these ornaments, with gently curving sides and an elliptical cross-section: the two sides are decorated with a seemingly abstract pattern of interlocking squarish linked scrolls that are placed symmetrically back to back along the central axis, with other scrolls along the side borders.

The pattern is actually a highly stylized taotie 饕餮, or animal mask, which on other scabbard chapes of the Han dynasty may also be represented in its entirety. The contour of each single element of the design is stressed by tiny incised lines which balance the t-shaped elements carved in low relief, creating a subtle interplay of forms on each of the two sides. A plain border is carved around the entire central design and a cross-shaped perforation is drilled on the shortest edge.”