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Pale green and brown oval-shaped cup

The interior of this oval-shaped cup is a shiny, translucent light green with dark brown patches and white veins. It has small symmetrical, rectangular wings along its long sides with curly openwork detail. The cup’s interior is carved with a pattern of crossing spirals. The outside of this cup is opaque tan with a nubby surface of textured spirals. More large spirals are carved into the bottom of the bowl.

Gallery Text

As its name implies, the Warring States period (475–221 BCE) was an era during which various states that were ruled by powerful clans competed for supremacy in China. The high demand for luxury goods to furnish the tombs of wealthy nobles enabled numerous artistic traditions to flourish, resulting in an array of ornate artifacts from this period and the subsequent Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). Bronze vessels continued to be commissioned by the ruling elite during both eras, but the addition of gold and intricate openwork designs (here seen on the gilt bronze pedestaled dou and the small openwork pou vessels) transformed this previously austere tradition into a more decorative artistic craft. Jade containers made in shapes traditionally used for bronze or lacquer vessels (such as the three exhibited here) were the epitome of ostentation, as there was no better way to demonstrate wealth than to reproduce a luxury item in a more expensive medium.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Jade Winged Oval Cup (Erbei), one of a pair
Work Type
3rd-1st century BCE
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Han dynasty, Western Han period, 206 BCE-9 CE
Persistent Link


Level 1, Room 1600, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Bronze Age to the Golden Age
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Physical Descriptions

Olive and grayish-green translucent nephrite with deep brown and dark green patches and with altered areas
L. 13.5 x W. 9.8 x Thickness 0.3 cm (5 5/16 x 3 7/8 x 1/8 in.)
Weight 254 g


Recorded Ownership History
[Yamanaka & Co., New York, October 21, 1929] sold; to Grenville L. Winthrop, New York (1929-1943), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943.

Published Text

Ancient Chinese Jades from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University
Max Loehr and Louisa G. Fitzgerald Huber
Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975)

Catalogue entry no. 522a by Max Loehr:

522 Pair of Winged Oval Cups
The nearly identical cups are carved of olive and grayish green translucent jade with deep brown and dark green patches; the surfaces are polished to a high gloss. The fact that one cup (a) is perfectly preserved on the inside while the other (b) is so on the outside suggests, as already noted by Salmony, that the latter piece was stacked onto the first at the time of burial. The exposed sides have assumed a bone-colored appearance but have largely retained their glossy surface. The shape of these cups agrees with that of the Waring States and Han cups in bronze, pottery, and lacquer—less precious as media, and less magnificent in workmanship.

The outside walls are covered with a pattern of interlocked relief spirals whose size decreases in accordance with the contraction of the vessel bodies. In the middle of the long sides this pattern is interrupted by exquisitely designed masks of feline character. Above this zone runs a border frieze with large T -spirals and with feline heads in profile which adjoin and face the lateral wings. These wings, which rise from the border with subtly hollowed undersides, are ornamented in openwork: simple spirals that flank a T -spiral are cut out by drilling and possibly by sawing. The rest of the décor is incised; on the outer bottom, to both sides of a beautifully finished longitudinal ridge, are two attenuated bird figures; on the interior bottom, two similarly elongated and elegant S -curves crossing withing an oval frame.

Although the foregoing description fits both vessels, a close examination reveals certain differences in design as well as execution. In the second vessel b , the interlocked spirals are less dense and flatter; a caesura painstakingly worked out on the narrow sides of a is disregarded in b . The animal mask on b is plainer and again, flatter, as are the profile feline heads in the upper border. Most noticeable is the difference of the engraved bird ornament on the outer bottom, which in b has lost the delicate balance and rhythm seen in a . Even the ridge is more pronounced and slightly too visible in b . The likely conclusion to draw is that the second piece, lacking the consummate mastery of the first, was made as a matching vessels by a master of less raffinement .

Credibly reported to have come from Chin-ts’un near Lo-yang, the cups are likely to date from late Eastern Chou.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art


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Publication History

  • Max Loehr and Louisa G. Fitzgerald Huber, Ancient Chinese Jades from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975), cat. no. 522a, pp. 354-357
  • Elinor Pearlstein, "Ancient Chinese Jade through the Sonnenschein Lens, 1900-1935", Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, Oriental Ceramic Society (London, 2013-2014), vol. 78, pp. 65-86, p. 81, fig. 13b

Exhibition History

  • S427: Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Jades, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/20/1985 - 04/30/2008
  • Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 1600 Early China II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Related Works

Verification Level

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