By the ninth and eighth centuries BCE, jade, as well as bronze, began to be used for ornamental as well as ritual purposes. Innovations in both bronze- and jade-working technologies permitted more elaborate shapes and surface decorations. Jade workers, using metal-tipped drills along with diamond-hard sands as abrasives, could create designs of astounding intricacy, and interchange among all artistic mediums-jade, bronze, lacquer, ceramics, wood, and textile-enormously enriched the vocabulary of motifs and the range of effects imaginable. Furthermore, as a patchwork of independent statelets replaced central political control, the new lords competed as patrons of the arts, which flowered vigorously.
The intricate interlacery on the jade plaque incorporates animal masks, scales, and claws that either revive Shang bronze designs or imitate central Asian animal style motifs popular on weapons and bronze belt fittings. Complex jade pectorals became a popular form of ornament in the Warring States period. The pair of dragon-shaped pendants were most likely worn suspended, along with other jade pieces, as a pectoral and girdle hanging down an aristocrat's neck, chest, and waist. The abstract form of the dragon pendants, S-shaped with reverted heads and curled feet, is the most popular, ubiquitous image in Warring States jade art.
|After the first decades of
the Western Zhou dynasty, changes in ritual and funeral
custom manifested themselves in the appearance of
jade-piece masks and, much later, jade burial suits. The
use of jade to bedeck corpses reflects the belief that, by
virtue of its own indestructibility, jade could protect the
corpse from decay, thereby providing the spirit with a
"living" home. The pieces of this jade mask were sewn on a
silk veil to define the facial features of the deceased.
Paired pieces signified the eyes, eyebrows, ears, and
temples, and individual pieces represented the forehead,
nose, mouth, cheeks, and chin. Below this jade mask, along
the chest and waist of the corpse, lay a long necklace
composed of arc-shaped jades, called huang, that
were strung with agate and faience beads. Additional,
flanking jades in the form of bi disks and ge
dagger blades, exhibited in the adjacent cases, accompanied
the ensemble. Later, in the Warring States (475-221 BCE)
and Han (206 BCE-220 CE) periods, the dead were buried in
complete body suits made of thin wafers of jade sewn
together through tiny holes at their four corners. Old
jades were often recarved to create the thin plates that
compose later suits and masks.