A Second Look – Collecting Song to Ming Jades by Sam Bernstein
Depicted from Arts of
Depicted from Arts of
Connoisseurship of jade art objects in
has a long history. One of its most significant periods was that of the Ming
(1368-1644) dynasty when gentlemen scholars known as literati, because of their
fondness for literary pursuits, set the standards for collecting. These men,
who typically held undemanding positions in government service, were devoted to
self-refinement through contemplation and practice of the arts. They collected
jades and other fine objects not just for their beauty, but because these
things affirmed the quality of the lives they had chosen. China
Recently, the ideals of the Ming gentlemen scholars have undergone an unforeseen revival that is having a quickening effect on the market for jade works of art dating from the Song (960-1279) to Ming period – objects like those prized by the Ming literati.
Economic reforms in the People’s Republic of
and new levels of prosperity in Taiwan
and Hong Kong have created a new class of
Chinese collectors with the education, discretionary income and time to emulate
their Ming era predecessors. A good example of this new, or reborn, breed of
collectors is in the Hong Kong association
known as the Min Chiu Society, a study group of about thirty affluent men who
collect jades, ceramics and paintings at a high level of connoisseurship.
As recently as the early 1980s, Chinese white jade (nephrite) works of art were selling in the US$8000 to US$40,000 range. The same prices today bring five to ten times those values. High-calibre jades of Song to Ming origin are now selling at the same price levels as white jade brought in about 1981. They are already beginning to escalate in value, primarily because Chinese collectors are now aggressively seeking jade objects of top quality, furthering the gentleman-scholar tradition. Americans and Europeans – especially the English collectors are richly endowed with Song and Ming jades.
For further perspectives on collecting opportunities, we can compare prices of Song and Ming paintings, ceramics and jades of equivalent rarity and desirability. Both Song and Ming porcelains generally bring prices five times those of jades of corresponding quality and antiquity. Ironically, Song and Ming ceramics exist in far greater numbers than jades from these periods.
The most common mistake made by novice collectors is to assume that all jades were made for the same purposes. For many centuries, jades were produced under a two-tier system. Many were made as utilitarian objects or, later, to answer the demands of a market. The finest were conceived and realized as works of art. Jades conceived as artistic expressions display much more labour and care in their design, carvings and finishing than pieces made for use or commerce. Jades of the Song to Ming periods are products of group effort, made in a workshop setting by artisans who specialized in both design and workmanship. The quality of the workshop’s output generally depended on the level of patronage. The collector must always bear in mind that that age alone does not enhance a jade’s quality.
Design, symbolism and workmanship are the three criteria used to date and rank a jade of art. Cutting, piercing and polishing techniques are far more refined in objects that truly rank as jade works of art, as is the use of the material’s natural colour.
Water Receptacle in Shape of Buddha's Hand (Citron)
Circular Bi Disc with Nine Dragons
Jade, 122th-14th century
Jade, Song-Yuan dynasty (10th-14th century)
H: 15.9cm, Diameter: 10.8cm
Openwork plaque of a flying goose with lotus
Jade, Yuan dynasty (1279-1368)
L: 12.06cm, W: 7.94cm, Depth: 0.9cm