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Fine Chinese Shang Dynasty Nephrite Cong

East Asia, China, Shang Dynasty, ca. 1558 to 1046 BCE. A gorgeous and finely-formed ritual funerary item known as a "cong," carved by hand from mottled dark-green nephrite with black inclusions. The cong bears a square form, four projecting corners with smooth faceted contours, and a central ring drilled through the center with a squat collar around each side. This cong was formed through a meticulous carving and smoothing process using awls, drills, and abrasives of varying fineness, and boasts an incredibly smooth surface which is pleasing to the touch. Size: 3.7" W x 1.375" H (9.4 cm x 3.5 cm).

Chinese art has incorporated jade since the Neolithic period; quarries for nephrite, the type of jade found in China, have been found in modern-day southern Mongolia that date to ca. 4000 BCE. The stone was prized for its hardness, its beautiful coloration, and its durability. Jade was the most valuable item known to the Neolithic Chinese and was associated with the most important rituals of life. Yu, the Chinese word for jade, is also an idea - of a steadfastness, and reliability, mirrored in the abrasion techniques required to make these intricate works of art. Yu is also not bound by the mineralogical definition of jade - over the millennia that it has been carved in China, the people have had varying access to sources of jade and nephrite - but is rather a wider term for hard stone. By the third millennium BCE, we know that jade had also come to be associated with immortality.

During the Shang dynasty, members of the royalty were accompanied in the afterlife by their bronzes, ceramics, weapons, amulets, and ornaments, and even the human and animal entourage that surrounded them in life. Jade items like this one formed part of the decoration of these tombs and seem to have been reserved for the most elite people in society. The funerary function of nephrite jade congs like this example probably had a religious connotation. Some scholars of Chinese Neolithic history and anthropology posit that the cong is "…based on the ancient Chinese notion that earth was square and heaven round, while the hole in the object represents the passage connecting heaven and earth." (Weichao, Yu. "A Journey into China's Antiquity - Volume 1: Palaeolithic Age - Spring and Autumn Period." National Museum of Chinese History, Beijing, China, 1997, p. 80)

For a stylistically-similar example of a longer form, please see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 02.18.316: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/49369

A stylistically-similar example of a larger size but similar stone coloration hammered for HKD 211,500 ($27,028.24) at Christie's, Hong Kong "Important Chinese Jades from the Personal Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman Part II" Auction (sale 2388, November 27, 2007, lot 1592): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/ancient-art-antiquities/a-dark-spinach-green-jade-cong-5000247-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5000247&sid=627653f3-af17-420a-a41e-47984bb5530b

Another example of a similar size and red-brown stone coloration hammered for $12,500 at Sotheby's, New York "Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art: Property from the Sam and Myrna Myers Collection" Auction (March 18-19, 2014, lot 121): http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/fine-chinese-ceramics-works-of-art-n09116/lot.121.html

Condition: Surface wear and minor abrasions commensurate with age, and very minor nicks to projecting corners, top and bottom rims, and interior walls, otherwise intact and excellent. Light earthen deposits throughout.

Provenance: private New Jersey, USA collection

All items legal to buy/sell under U.S. Statute covering cultural patrimony Code 2600, CHAPTER 14, and are guaranteed to be as described or your money back.

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