Axe blade (yue)

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.

Historical period(s)
Western Zhou dynasty, 11th-10th century BCE
Medium
Bronze
Dimensions
H x W x D: 19 x 10.9 x 1 cm (7 1/2 x 4 5/16 x 3/8 in)
Geography
China
Credit Line
Purchase — funds provided by the Friends of Asian Arts and the Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1996.8
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Metalwork, Tool and Equipment
Type

Ceremonial object: axe

Keywords
animal, casting, China, mask, Western Zhou dynasty (ca. 1050 - 771 BCE), WWII-era provenance
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]

1965
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]

Notes:

[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.

Previous Owner(s)

J.J. Lally & Co. Oriental Art
Baron G. collection
Jörg Trübner
Adolphe Stoclet 1871-1949
Oriental Bronzes, Ltd.

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.

Label

This ornate bronze ax demonstrates the importance of military power and the rituals that reinforced that power for the rulers of Bronze-Age China. Its extravagantly openwork outline with curvaceous dragons and large feline mask with ears in high relief on the flat face of the blade are typical of the decorative flamboyance that marked the beginning of the Western Zhou dynasty (ca. 1050-950 b.c.e.).

Published References
  • Sueji Umehara. (Obei shucho) Shina kodo seika [Selected Relics of Ancient Chinese Bronzes from Collections in Europe and America]. 7 vols., Kyoto and Osaka, 1933-1935. vol. 7, cat. 98a.
  • Otto Kümmel. Jörg Trübner zum Gedächtnis: Ergebnisse seiner letzten chinesischen Reisen. Berlin. pl. 23.
  • Herman Floris Eduard Visser. Asiatic Art [in private collections of Holland and Belgium]. New York and Amsterdam. cat. 42, pl. 37.
  • The Joseph E. Hotung Gallery of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum. vol. 23, no. 11 Hong Kong, November 1992. .
  • Sun Tzu. The Art of War: An Illustrated Edition., revised edition. Boston. p. 125.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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