Height: 6.200 cm
Length: 17.100 cm
On loan from a private collection OA 29:1
Room 33b: Chinese jade
Lobed jade cup
China, Tang dynasty, 8th-9th century AD
Relatively few vessels were made of jade in the early periods of Chinese history, because of the extravagance involved. A vessel would have had to be carved by hollowing out from a relatively large block of material, resulting in considerable wastage. It is also difficult to carve thin, curved walls. During the Tang dynasty AD 618-906), vessels made of gold and silver, materials previously not particularly prized by the Chinese, were introduced into the court. These were then copied in jade, thus giving the vessels the added associations of immortality and high status embodied in this most highly prized material. To own such a piece must have implied great wealth and status, and it is possible that their use was restricted to the court.
The shape of this oval, elongated cup is paralleled among gold and silver bowls of the Tang period, which were made in imitation of bowls from further west, in Central Asia and Iran. Similar jade pieces have been found in buried hoards, but not in tombs, probably because they were highly valuable, and conventions of the period seem to have restricted the burial of precious materials.
J. Rawson, Chinese jade: from the Neolith (London, The British Museum Press, 1995, reprinted 2002)