About this artwork
Elaborately furnished Chinese tombs of the late fourth and third millennia B.C. reveal that jade objects were prestigious burial gifts, particularly among the Liangzhu people of the eastern coast (present-day Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces). Individuals of high status were buried with slightly tapering prisms like this, usually together with jade discs and weapons. Some graves afford evidence that the jade-laden body was burned during funerary rites.
Intriguing forms and precisely executed surface designs characterize jade prisms. The inner cylinders were smoothly bored with a tubular drill, probably a shaft of bamboo. The tapered exterior surfaces are subdivided into tiers of masklike images composed of circles and bars, immediately suggesting eyes and nose or mouth. The Liangzhu may have attributed some magic, protective qualities to these masks.
Prisms like this have been found only in tombs. They may be among the earliest objects made specifically for mortuary rituals. Jade-rich burials suggest that Chinese beliefs in the stone’s life-preserving properties originated in prehistoric times.
- 26.7 × 7.6 × 7.6 cm (10 1/2 × 3 × 3 in.)
- Edward and Louise B. Sonnenschein Collection