Set of six Chinese jade openwork belt plaques of peach form, each carved with a bird of paradise standing on pierced rockwork, beneath a large camellia bloom, amongst voluminous leaves and scrolling branches, all within a peach-shaped frame, the flat reverse with holes for attachment, the stone white.
2 1⁄4 inches, 5.7 cm long; 2 3⁄8 inches, 6 cm high.
Early Ming dynasty, 15th/16th century.
- Published by Marchant in their 90th Anniversary Exhibition, Ninety Jades for 90 Years, no.
- From the collection of the Marquis & Marquise de Ganay, Courances, France.
- A complete set of twenty Ming dynasty openwork belt plaques carved with dragons and shou characters, including six peach- shaped plaques, treasured and boxed by the Qianlong emperor, is illustrated by Xu Lin in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum, Jade, Vol. 6, Ming Dynasty, Gu Gong Inventory no. Gu 96070, no. 158, pp. 180/1, where the author illustrates other complete sets, nos. 152 & 157, pp. 175 & 179 respectively, and a plain white jade set, no. 163, pp. 184/5. The author also illustrates an oval openwork plaque with similar bird and flower, no. 168, p. 188.
- Another complete set of Ming dynasty openwork plaques, carved with deer and attached to a belt, in the Qing Court Collection, is illustrated by Yang Xin in, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Jadeware (I), no. 251, p. 236; a further set of twenty including six peach shape plaques, each backed with gold foil and fixed to an original leather belt wrapped in dark blue silk, is illustrated by Liu Yang & Edmund Capon in Translucent World, Chinese Jade from the Forbidden City, an exhibition held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2007, no. 96, pp. 150/1, where the authors note, ‘Copious numbers of decorative jade belt plaques were produced during the Ming dynasty. The first Ming emperor Hongwu regulated that the imperial costume include a jade belt in 1383 and again in 1393. After the Yongle period, regulation may have further encouraged the use of jade belts as extant belts made after this time all consist of 20 plaques. The diversity of motifs used includes dragons, deer, flower-and-bird and melon motifs, men dancing with lions and children at play. Designs with dragons among floral and scroll patterns were generally reserved for imperial use; ranking officials were forbidden to wear ‘a dragon belt’ unless it was bestowed by the emperor as a special honour.’
- A single openwork white jade peach-shaped belt plaque carved with a dragon, formerly in the Chih-jou Chai collection, now in the British Museum, is illustrated by James C. Y. Watt in Chinese Jades from Han to Ch’ing, An Exhibition Held at Asia House Gallery, New York, 1980, no. 181, pp. 192/3, where the author notes, ‘Cheng Te-k’un, in T’ang and Ming Jades, was the first to draw attention to openwork belt plaques like this one and give them a Ming date. Since the publication of his paper in 1954, many sets of jade belt plaques have been found archeologically, especially in the provinces of Kiangsi and Kiangsu; unfortunately very few are illustrated in the report. Judging from the material in the Kiangsi Provincial Museum in Nan-ch’ang, this kinD of openwork dragon plaque appeared in the late fifteenth century and remained popular throughout the sixteenth century. According to Ch’en Po-ch’üan of the Kiangsi Provincial Museum, a full set of jade belt plaques of the Ming period consists of 19 pieces, of which six are peach-shaped like these, two are rectangular, seven are square, and four are narrow long pieces, Wen Wu, 1964.2, p. 67.’
- Six different Ming dynasty peach-shaped belt plaques are illustrated by Ba Tong in the National Museum of History, Taiwan, 2009, exhibition of The Shiny Gem, A Jade Exhibition of Joy Arts’ Collection, pp. 53-57.
- An almost complete set of sixteen openwork belt plaques carved with deer, including four of peach shape, published by Hei- Chi, in Jade from the Hei-Chi Collection, 2006, Beijing, pp. 182-185, was sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong in their auction of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 8th April 2010, lot 2030, p. 396.
- Birds of paradise, also known as ribbon-tailed birds, shoudainiao, are two species of Asian birds: the paradise flycatcher and
the red-billed blue magpie, both often depicted with camellia. The birds’ long tails are also known as changshou, which is homophonous with a term for longevity. The second character in the word ‘ribbon’, dai, is a pun for generations, this character also bringing to mind the belt or jade ornaments, yudai, worn by high officials, making the ribbon-tailed bird a symbol for rank as well. When depicted with camellia, it forms the rebus chunguang changshou, ‘May you enjoy eternal youth and longevity’. This is discussed in detail by Terese Tse Bartholomew in Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, nos. 7.51- 7.51.12, pp. 215-218.