Earthly Hues

This exhibition focuses on the wide variety of colours in jade carvings. While some are naturally occurring, others are a result of transformations during burial. Nevertheless, as in the gallery’s previous exhibitions, the importance of the combination of carving quality and scarcity of the object itself cannot be emphasized more. The items selected for this exhibition were used in both the public and private spheres, from archaic ritual and ceremonial objects to personal handling pieces and pendants. Most come from renowned collections and/or are previously published.

Jades that have been buried change colour due to contact with minerals in the earth, as well as oxidization. The three axes (nos. 2, 3 and 4) exemplify this phenomenon—they have developed deep brown and caramel tones from being underground. The gloriously mottled orange axe from the Western Zhou period (c. 1046– 771 BCE) (no. 2) is comparable to jades unearthed at the Jinsha site in Chengdu, Sichuan province, where the jades display a range of mystical colours. The predominantly olive green Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE) collared disc (no. 6), the Shang dynasty frog (no. 5) and the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220) cicada with deep red patches (no. 11) are further examples.

The Ordos jade pendant carved with a monkey flanked by two birds of prey (no. 10) is an object of rarity. A related motif of large-, round-eyed animals is usually found only on Ordos bronze plaques and is rarely made in jade. Although there are many jade carvings of monkeys throughout Chinese history, the white jade monkey toggle (no. 12) from the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386–589) is an unusual design for this period. It is of classic mutton-fat white jade and is carved in the round with meticulously defined details.

It is always a delight to find jade objects not previously encountered. One such example is the Sui (581–618) to early Tang (618–907) dynasty standing attendant (no. 13)—a subject more frequently found in other materials, like pottery. The finely carved jade has a deep brown tone mainly on the front, retaining the original whitish colour on the back. Another unusual object is the jade phoenix lined with a thin layer of copper (no. 17), which was previously sold by Knapton Rasti Asian Art. Stylistically the phoenix is from the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), but its features and polish indicate a later date of around the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).

Two models of roosters (nos. 21 and 31) are included. The first, from the Song dynasty (960–1279), is cleverly worked, with the black colour showing on one side and the celadon, on the reverse. The second rooster, of larger size and finely detailed, is from the Ming dynasty. Larger animals such as oxen and horses were often produced during this period and constitute a well-known type. This piece is from the collection of the Von Wichmanns, a Prussian military family stationed in China from the late 19th to the early 20th century. Also featured are two models of recumbent camels (nos. 27 and 33) from a Hong Kong collection. The first, Song dynasty example is subtle and has a flat base typical of the period. The second, Ming dynasty camel is much more detailed in its carving, with an elaborate saddle and intricate details on the feet.

Two Song dynasty handling pieces are particularly tactile—a soulful deep russet fish (no. 22) and a small, white winged tiger and cub group (no. 26). The former has been truly loved and played with over the years.

Whilst the carving is not the finest, the deep colours and patina make this a real connoisseur’s piece—it is destined for a collector who has a deep understanding of and appreciation for jade. The latter group from a Taiwan collection in a similar material is carved in the round, echoing the monkey toggle (no. 12).

Two animals of superior carving are included. First, the Song dynasty yellow jade beast from the Muwen Tang Collection (no. 23) is carved reflecting the style of the Six Dynasties period (222–589). In addition to its sought-after yellow tone, every detail is of the highest calibre, from the ridges of its vertebrae to the rippling underside and boldly defined face. Second, the recumbent celadon and russet jade lion (no. 32) is technically brilliant and represents the zenith of late Ming dynasty craftsmanship. The definition awarded to the head, back and elaborate tail demonstrates the skills of the anonymous carver.

Nader Rasti