Lot 3403
  • 3403


1,000,000 - 1,500,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • 4 cm, 1 1/2  in.
superbly worked and depicted recumbent with the legs spread outwards and feet tucked beneath, the upper surface of the beast centred with a subtly raised ridge terminating in a protruding tail, further decorated with angular scrollwork, the horned beast portrayed with a prominent flat muzzle below large lozenge-shaped eyes enclosing circular irises and a pair of small pointed ears, the lustrous stone of a celadon colour mottled with dark inclusions, traces of cinnabar


C.T. Loo, Paris.
Collection of Frederick M. Mayer (d. 1974), New York.
Christie's London, 24/25th June 1974, lot 187.
Idemitsu Museum of Art, Tokyo.
Christie's New York, 26th March 2003, lot 31.
Alvin Lo Oriental Art Ltd, New York, 2003.


An Exhibition of Chinese Archaic Jades, C.T. Loo, New York, 1950, pl. XVII, no. 1.


Alfred Salmony, Carved Jade of Ancient China, London, 1937, pl. XXI, no. 6. 
Ancient Chinese Arts in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1989, pl. 149.
Robert P. Youngman, The Youngman Collection of Chinese Jades from Neolithic to Qing, Chicago, 2008, pl. 33.

Catalogue Note

In early Chinese art, animal motifs fall into two categories – naturalistic and highly stylised – but in both cases, the artist always appears to have developed a close intimacy with the animals. The representation of the animals may or may not reflect a religious usage or meaning, and investigations into the meanings of those images can be enlightening. The animal motif may refer to a particular category of imagined fantastic creatures, or to animals in the real world, but either way, it can be regarded as a completely new configuration in Shang ritual art.  When a jade animal was specially designed and created, the intention was to provide a particular visual experience, and its significance would have been understood by the viewer. When certain real animals are presented in a naturalistic manner, the realistic features of the animals are explicitly played out, suggesting that the objects are infused with an animated power, or they affirm what the viewer already knows about his relationship with those animals. In Shang ancestral worship, domesticated animals including ox, sheep, dogs and pigs were regularly sacrificed. Shang craftsmen were mesmerised by the charm of certain real animals to make exceptional objects. In this way the animal-shaped vessels were perceived and treated more like ‘sculptures’ than as utilitarian vessels. In 1976, archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, discovered in Xiaotun village an intact royal tomb which belonged to Fu Hao, one of the consorts of King Wu Ding. Amongst the large number of jade animals found in her tomb were representations of buffaloes, including a large (7.7 cm long) jade buffalo carving, illustrated in Queen, Mother, General: 40th Anniversary of Excavating the Shang Tomb of Fu Hao, Beijing, 2016, p. 27 (1976AXTM5: 1301).

The current jade buffalo and the Fu Hao example, which it closely relates to, demonstrate the highly stylised approach of the Shang artisan. Both are carved in the round from lustrous stone, and depicted recumbent with legs spread, their stylised features sensitively rendered with skilful incisions, the surface of both bodies covered with a design of raised-line square spirals. The overall representation is highly abstract, with use of these scrolling geometric motifs to convey the archaistic design, but with key features including the horns, eyes, nose and snarling expression naturalistically rendered.

Similar craftsmanship is evident on a Shang jade buffalo in Harvard Art Museum, illustrated in Max Loehr and Louisa G. Fitzgerald Huber, Ancient Chinese Jades from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, 1975, cat. no. 148.

Outside of museum collections, however, it is extremely rare to find a complete jade sculpture of a buffalo in Shang art. In contrast to the current buffalo, the majority of early jade depictions are two-dimensional plaques. See for instance the jade water buffalo in the Mrs Edward Sonnenschein Collection, Chicago, illustrated by Alfred Salmony, Carved Jade of Ancient China, 1938, pl. XXIII (8), the example in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, illustrated by Jessica Rawson, 'Animal Motifs in Early Western Zhou Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections', Chinese Bronzes: Selected articles from Orientations, 1983-2000, Hong Kong, 2001, p. 20, fig. 12, and the small jade buffalo plaque from the Harris collection, sold at Christie’s New York, 16th March 2017, lot 802.

This superb jade buffalo encapsulates the Shang approach to jade craftsmanship and is an extraordinary legacy of the era. Endowed with a prestigious history, originally in the collection of the celebrated dealer C.T. Loo, and later in the collections of Frederick Mayer and the Idemitsu Museum, Tokyo, in quality it ranks alongside the finest surviving examples from the royal tombs of Anyang.