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Lot 52. A mottled green jade cong, Neolithic period, Liangzhu Culture (c. 3300-2250 BC); 15.9 cm, 6 ¼ inEstimate: 2,000,000 - 3,000,000 HKD. Lot sold 3,780,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's.

of cylindrical form with square projections on four corners, the sides slightly tapering towards the base, each corner carved with five registers of stylised mask comprising twin bands of narrow parallel grooves above incised circular ‘eyes’ and a short raised band with rounded ends for the ‘nose’, the dark green jade mottled and streaked with cloudy off-white and black inclusions.

Provenance: J.J. Lally & Co., New York, 4th April 1994.

Exhibited: Archaic Chinese Bronzes, Jades and Works of Art, J.J. Lally & Co., New York, 1994, cat. no. 19.
Ancient Chinese Jade, J.J. Lally & Co., New York, 2018, cat. no. 24.

Note: Comparable multi-tiered cong are preserved in major museums and private collections. Two five-tier examples are in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., nos F1917.63 and F1917.368. A six-tier cong from the Qing court collection is now preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, no. Gu yu 02038. A four-tier cong from the Yangdetang collection was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th November 2018, lot 2702; and a three-tier one from the Lantien Shanfang and Chang Wei-Hwa collections was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th November 2019, lot 2720. See also a six-tier example excavated from Pingyao, exhibited in The Dawn of Chinese Civilizations: Jades of the Liangzhu Collection, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1998, cat. no. 4.


Five-tier tube (cong 琮) with masks, Late Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture 良渚 (ca. 3300-ca. 2250 BCE). Jade (nephrite). H x W x D: 17.6 × 7.7 × 7.6 cm (6 15/16 × 3 × 3 in) Diam (hole - top): 5.4 cm (2 1/8 in) Diam (hole - bottom): 4.9 cm (1 15/16 in). Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1917.63, Freer Gallery of Art. © 2020 Smithsonian Institution 


Five-tier tube (cong 琮) with masks, Late Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture 良渚 (ca. 3300-ca. 2250 BCE). Jade (nephrite). H x W x D: 11.3 x 5.9 x 6 cm (4 7/16 x 2 5/16 x 2 3/8 in) Diam (hole): 4.7 cm (1 13/16 in)Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1917.368Freer Gallery of Art. © 2020 Smithsonian Institution




Six-tier cong, Late Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture (3200-2000 BCE), Qing court collection, National Palace Museum, Taipei © National Palace Museum.

Liangzhu cong were imitated or repurposed not only in other Neolithic cultures, but also for centuries thereafter. See a Shang dynasty reinterpretation offered in the same sale (lot 70), on which the horizontal elements are further simplified and the round eyes have vanished. Song dynasty potters were inspired to create cong ceramic vases which accentuate the beauty of glazes through their angular, almost architectural structure (see an example sold in these rooms, 2nd April 2019, lot 3039). Archaic jade cong in the Qing court collection were particularly appreciated by the Qianlong Emperor, who commissioned metal liners in order to turn the hollow tubes into flower vessels, oftentimes upside down. See a Liangzhu jade cong, later inscribed with a Qianlong imperial poem and fitted with a cloisonné enamel liner, albeit in the wrong direction with the faces inverted, from the Qing court collection and preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in The Enchanting Splendor of Vases and Planters: A Special Exhibition of Flower Vessels from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Taipei, 2002, cat. no. II-07.

Sotheby's. Monochrome II, 9 October 2020, Hong Kong