Belt Hook

  • China
  • China, Western Han period
  • 206 B.C. - A.D. 9
  • Gilt bronze inlaid with jade and glass
  • H-19.8
Catalogue Entry

This curved, gilt-bronze belt hook is formed into a sinuous dragon. Its eyes are inlaid with turquoise-colored glass, which may not be original, and its body with three curved green jade plaques. Its head is lupine with long ears and an open jaw with visible sharp fangs. Three of its legs are cast in open work, its paws rejoining its body to act as prongs to hold the jade plaques in place. The hook itself is a feline head with a long neck extending from the body of the belt hook.

The belt hook was cast by the lost-wax method and then gilded by mercury amalgam, a technique that had been invented in China around the fourth century B.C. The jades were slipped into position through two open slits in the back of the hook and placed on a ledge provided for them and attached with a light paste. The veins of the jade were stained in certain places over time by the malachite encrustation that built up on the bronze interior of the belt hook, indicating that the jades are the original inlays. The reverse is set with a stud for attachment and two long openings, revealing the ledges on which the jade plaques rest and the light colored paste that hold them in place.

Belt hooks inset with jade plaques were made during the late Warring States (475-221 B.C.). and Western Han periods, and can be found in collections throughout the world. Sometimes the jades are carved, as they are on catalogue number 91, and sometimes they are undecorated, as they are here.1 Such belt hooks were purely luxury items, created by master craftsmen for the elite during the late Warring States and Han periods. Jade had been the most important symbol of incorruptibility and prestige in China since the Neolithic period, and continues to be revered today.

1. Compare those in the Pierre Uldry collection: Uldry et al. 1994, nos. 45-47, 49; and a superb example in the Hotung collection: published with comparative examples in Rawson et al. 1995, p. 304-5, no. 22.