Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An Ornament from the Past

         the le le

These little odd shaped beads ( should I call them beads because they have perforations ?) had me wondering for sometime about their origin and use. I had bought them from a seller who could only say "le le" by way of description and as I am not fluent in Chinese,  I was none the wiser. I did try the bi-lingual dictionaries but got not much help. For all I know he may be having me on !

6 funnel-shaped jade objects called Le le

The six dark color nephrite stones narrow from the middle with the bottom wider than the top, may be described as trumpet-shaped or funnel-shaped. Measuring around 2 cm, each piece is drilled from top to bottom and  the holes are small.  None of the pieces are  of the same height or size and each "le le" is partially covered with patina of age. The le les  are entirely plain with no surface decorations or carvings.

Here is a picture showing the bottom ends and looked at from this angle their shapes are reminiscent of the supertrees in our Garden by the Bay Park or even ancient toadstools from a jurassic park :)

bottoms up they look like ancient toadstools or supertrees!

Supertrees, Garden by the Bay Park

To learn more about their source and origin I searched through many publications on early jade and found some useful references and illustrations. In Roger Chow's book Sparkling Splendours there are similar funnel shaped objects in crystal and agate form. He has described them as ear ornaments and attributed them to Han dynasty(206 BC – 220 AD) On the other hand, in Jessica Rawson's Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing similar shaped  jade beads  were dated to Dong Zhou-Han dynasty (5th-2nd century BC)

However Rawson's examples are more than thrice the size and have elaborate carvings and large holes.   Size and decoration wise my le les (small size, plain and small holes) are more in keeping with the crystal and agate samples shown in Sparkling Splendors by Roger Chow. So I am more inclined to  to think they are ear ornaments dating from that period (Han)

As ear ornaments I guess they could have been set with gold and pearls, or strung with silk threads and the hole facilitates  attachment to the ear. Perhaps they were worn as dangle earrings  like the one I tried to recreate below ?

le le as earring
le can also be used as a pei or accessory to be strung up with other beads/ornaments  to form a pectoral (chatelaine).I don't have enough ancient components to form a dramatic pectoral such as those shown in books. But here is my shot at making a mini pectoral, consisting of funnel shaped les, xizhou carnelian discs, one silkworm and one very old pearl bead.

mini pectoral
They also look nice strung with white calcite discs as a contrast.

strimg with carnelian and white calcite discs

Although  my les have no provenance I'll let the pieces speak for themselves :)

Just got hold of the book Lazurite : a journey into ancient China. According to the book ear ornaments called er dang were fashionable with ladies of the Han era. These er dang were made in glass and were funnel shaped. The book shows many examples of these er dang or ear ornaments which have been attributed to Warring States and Han dynasty excavations.

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  • Theft : a love story
  • The Uncommon Reader
  • The Silent Patient
  • Never Let me go
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  • Where angels fear to tread