Axe blade (yue)

Detail of a pattern
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At A Glance

  • Period

    11th-10th century BCE
  • Geography

  • Material

  • Dimension

    H x W x D: 19 x 10.9 x 1 cm (7 1/2 x 4 5/16 x 3/8 in)
  • Accession Number



Object Details

  • Description

    The thickened, blunt cutting edge and elaborate decoration indicate that this ax was not a functional weapon, but was used as military ceremonial regalia. Its rounded edge curves up with tips that end in tight curls, and a feline mask with prominent heart-shaped ears standing clear above the surface decorates each face of the blade. Two animals with notched spines and heads turned back grasp the sides, while their long tails curl with the tips of the blade. The openwork created by these animals on the sides is echoed by the notched and zigzagged outline of the tang, as well as the openwork pattern within.
  • Provenance

    From at least 1929
    Jörg Trübner (1903-1930), acquired in China [1]
    From at least 1930 to 1949
    Adolphe Stoclet (1871-1949), Brussels [2]
    To 1965
    Philippe R. Stoclet, New York, Adolphe Stoclet’s grandson, by descent from his family [3]
    Sale, Sotheby’s, London, Important Chinese Works of Art Ceramics and Jades, Including the Property of Mr. Philippe Stoclet (from the Collection of the late Adolphe Stoclet)…, May 11, 1965, lot 131: “A rare bronze ritual axe-head,… Chou dynasty,” ill., sold to “Ohly” [4]
    Private collector, United States [5]
    In about 1992
    J. J. Lally & Co. Oriental Art, New York, in about November 1992 [6]
    Baron G. collection [7]
    To 1996
    Oriental Bronzes Ltd., London, to January 1996 [8]
    From 1996
    Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Christian Deydier of Oriental Bronzes Ltd., London, England [9]
    [1] The object was published and illustrated in a commemorative volume assembled by Otto Kümmel and dedicated to Jörg Trübner.
    Trübner was a scholar specializing in Chinese bronzes. From 1925 until his premature death in Beijing in February 1930, he worked as an art dealer with his brother-in-law Edgar Worch, who was established in Berlin.
    Kümmel’s publication comprised objects which Trübner acquired in China and placed through Worch’s gallery in various collections in Europe and United States.
    See Otto Kümmel, Jörg Trübner zum Gedächtnis: Ergebnisse seiner letzten chinesischen Reisen (Berlin: Klinkhardt & Biermann Verlag, 1930), p. 52, pl. 23.
    [2] See Kümmel 1930, where the object is published as part of Adolphe Stoclet’s collection.
    The axe blade remained in the Stoclet collection until Adolphe Stoclet’s death in 1949, see H.F.E. Visser, Asiatic Art in Private Collections of Holland and Belgium (Amsterdam: De Spieghel Publishing Co., 1948), p. 41.
    [3] See Sotheby’s, London, Important Chinese Works of Art Ceramics and Jades, Including the Property of Mr. Philippe Stoclet (from the Collection of the late Adolphe Stoclet)…, auction cat. (May 11, 1965), p. 52.
    [4] The buyer of lot 131 is identified as “Ohly” in a list of buyers accompanying a copy of the Sotheby’s catalogue in Freer | Sackler Library.
    [5] Information provided by Laetitia Chemin of Oriental Bronzes Ltd. in 1996, see Oriental Bronzes Ltd.’s invoice, dated January 21, 1996, copy in object file.
    [6] The axe blade was advertised with a photographic image by J. J. Lally & Co. Oriental Art in the 1992 November issue of Orientations.
    [7] See note 5.
    [8] See note 5.
    [9] See Oriental Bronzes Ltd.’s invoice cited in note 5.
  • Collection

    Freer Gallery of Art Collection
  • Exhibition History

    Honoring Friends: Recent Gifts by Members of the Freer and Sackler Galleries (June 10 to November 25, 2001)
  • Previous custodian or owner

    Jörg Trübner
    Adolphe Stoclet (1871-1949)
    J.J. Lally & Co. Oriental Art
    Baron G. collection
    Oriental Bronzes, Ltd. (established 1987)
  • Origin

  • Credit Line

    Purchase — funds provided by the Friends of Asian Arts and the Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program
  • Type

    Ceremonial Object
  • Restrictions and Rights

    CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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