Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Photos of Chinese Jade from The Neolithic to the Qing


Liangzhu culture (circa 2500 B.C.), Neolithic 

Dark grey-green and brown opaque stone, highly polished

H: 20.3cm, W: 8.2cm


Shang (circa 1300-1200 B.C.)

Bright green jade with black areas, and others

showing alteration to white

L: 11.8cm, W: 5.5cm

Dragon pendant

Shang (circa 1200 B.C.)

Pale green and grey translucent jade with altered

areas running along veins in the stone

W: 5.1cm

One of a pair of dragon-shaped pendants

Eastern Zhou (4th century B.C.)

Dark green jade almost completely altered to pale brown

H: 7.8cm, L: 12.4cm

Belt Hook

Eastern Zhou (4th-3rd century B.C.)

Silvered and gilt-bronze inlaid with jade opaques

L: 19cm, W: 3cm


Late Ming or Qing (17th century)

Grey-green opaque jade with black veining

H: 17cm, L: 37.3cm

Brush Holder

Qing (18th century)

Rich dark translucent green

Diameter: 19cm

 Depicted from Arts of Asia Nov-Dec 1995
Photographs courtesy of Sir Joseph Hotung

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A Second Look – Collecting Song to Ming Jades by Sam Bernstein

A Second Look – Collecting Song to Ming Jades by Sam Bernstein
Depicted from Arts of Asia March-April 1995
       Connoisseurship of jade art objects in China 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.
        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 China 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)
Jade, Ming dynasty (15th-17th century), 

H:8.9cm, W: 12.7cm, L: 20.3cm

Circular Bi Disc with Nine Dragons

Jade, 122th-14th century

Diameter: 21.6cm


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 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Huhai - The Emperor Who Murdered His Siblings

This emperor hailed from the short-lived Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). He was also the first emperor to fall under eunuch control. He did nothing to build upon the achievements of his father, founder Qin Shihuang, and came to a quick end. Who was this emperor?

Compiled from Infamous Chinese Emperors

Notes of notoriety:

Monday, 21 October 2013

Chinese Snuff Bottles by Clare Lawrence

        Snuff was introduced into China from European sources at the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Tobacco from which snuff is made, is said to have arrived in Beijing from either the North of China or through European trade routes encompassing the Philippines, Japan and Korea. In contrast to tobacco leaf, snuff was regarded as a medicinal substance and was said to ‘clear the eyes, and had the property of banishing infection’ (Wang Shizhen, 1705).
        However, the predominant reason that snuff-taking became so fashionable was that it very quickly became an Imperial habit. Emulating the pretensions of the Imperial Court, the habit seeped downwards through the class, from aristocrat to scholar to merchant, until men and women throughout China partook of snuff.
So, what were the functions of snuff bottles within the Qing Court of the eighteenth century? Snuff is powdered tobacco, a drug, and very addictive, It was also socially acceptable, endorsed from its early development by a succession of emperors and, by the eighteenth century, other influential imbibers. Once the attention of the influential minority became focused on the bottle as an art form, it acquired further potential as a civilized form of bribery. Within the Chinese bureaucratic system of the Court, it was used socially and politically to curry favour, to gain audience to those in power, and to show appreciation for favours received. Those who had gained rank and prestige were able to show their superiority by dispersing snuff bottles as gifts to those their magnanimity.

Hence, the artistic production of Chinese snuff bottles was the result of a fashion that took root as the addictive habit of snuff-taking swept through the draughty corridors of power in Beijing in the late seventeenth century. At Court, snuff containers were of the highest quality, reflecting the development of the artistic endeavours of the period such as glass production. Thus, while the emperors and the Qing Court surrounded themselves with the exotic, the fanciful and the innovative, the aesthetic essence was differently defined for the scholar and again for the merchant classes.

Enamel on copper, painted with European women, Imperial with Qianlong nianzhi mark

Dentritic agate with a design of a goose in flight, 1740-1870 

Nephrite, black and white, carved with Mi Fei worshipping a rock, Suzhou School, 1740-1850  

Glass, single overlay, carved with two grass-cloaked fishermen crossing a bridge over a stream, 1740-1820 

Ivory, carved with figures in a canopied boat, Imperial, 1760-1795, Beijing

Jadeite, plain bottle, milky emerald green colour, 1800-1900


Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Making of Dunzi

Looking like a brick, the ‘Dunzi’ is a basic measurement for the formulation of clay and glazes. The average weight of a Dunzi is about 2 kilograms, which makes it convenient for the formulation of raw materials in proportions later.

Pic 1 - The board and brick-like mould for making of Dunzi.

Pic 2 - Determining the amount of clay needed

Pic 3 - The forcing of the (chunk of) clay into the mould

Pic 4 & 5 - The removal of excess clay with a cutting wire

Pic 6 & 7 - Disassembling of the mould

Pic 8 

Pic 9 

Pic 10 

Pic 8 - Removal of the Dunzi

Pic 9&10 - The cleaning of the mould