Works of Art

The inaugural Rasti Chinese Art exhibition carries on the tradition of jade animals and handling pieces of the highest calibre as previously presented by Knapton Rasti Asian Art.

Also included are hardstones and often overlooked small bronzes cast similar to that found in jade objects. The relationships amongst different materials, whether jade carvings imitating bronze forms or works inspired by subjects in paintings, form the theme of this year’s exhibition.

The yellow jade beast, possibly a ram (no. 17), appears, at first glance, like a mythical animal created from the mind of the carver. Upon closer inspection and further research, however, one can imagine how the artisan had very possibly viewed a Tang dynasty painting of a ram with elongated horns, which is reminiscent of an ibex. The deep russet-jade cup (no. 24) is an example of a jade imitating a bronze object or perhaps even an earlier jade vessel of the Han period. The jade bear-form vessel (no. 26), originally in bronze and copied in jade since the Han dynasty, is another object that intrigued not only the Song and Ming court, but also the Qianlong emperor, who had a similar piece copied, thinking the bronze original was from the Tang dynasty. According to Zhang Lirui of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, these bronze bear-form vessels were converted (the cylinder later added) from a foot or support detached from a large bronze object. The form of the creamy grey and dark grey jade seated lion (no. 18) can be seen in various materials, such as in Tang sancai glazed pottery, a marble figure from the same period or a bronze example (see no. 75). The carver has skilfully used the stone to highlight the animal’s features.

Two highly contrasting jade pendants are presented in this exhibition: one of a deep russet hue from the Song dynasty (no. 25), softly polished and freely carved in a naturalistic style, and the other of a pale celadon colour from the Qianlong period (no. 43), highly polished and carved in a formal style indicative of its manufacture in the Beijing Palace Workshops. They are both of the finest quality in carving, each showcasing the difference in taste during these periods.

A Song to Ming dynasty russet dappled yellow jade washer (no. 22), a 17th century grey ‘chicken-bone’ jade lotus pod waterpot (no. 38) and an 18th century yellow jade lotus pod washer (no. 39) highlight characteristics of the chosen stone, the carving, polish and style. The dappled washer embodies the taste during that period for simplicity and is comparable in carving and polish to one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The high polish of the grey jade waterpot and of the yellow jade lotus pod washer emphasizes the precision of the carving. However, the sturdier carving style of the waterpot, from the late Ming to early Qing dynasty, is in stark contrast to the delicacy of the second example, which might be attributable to the Yongzheng to early Qianlong period. All three objects are superbly executed. Yellow jades, a rarity, and animal carvings have always been a focus of interest for this writer. This exhibition presents several exceptional examples. The first is a jade camel (no. 8) of unusually large size, carved in the round and typical of the late Tang to early Song dynasty, which compares well to a smaller black-and-brown jade camel from the C. Philip Cardeiro Collection shown by Knapton Rasti Asian Art in 2009, and dated 9th to 12th century. This example was previously in the collection of the highly regarded Taiwanese collector C. F. Wu, and illustrated in Art of China, January 1988, p. 154, along with a lion from the same period shown by Knapton Rasti Asian Art in 2011. Another highlight is a recumbent yellow jade tiger (no. 50). The purity of the unblemished stone, and the meticulous attention to detail suggest a date in the late Ming dynasty. Its size and shape make for a wonderful plaything.

In the field of Chinese art, one often comes across intriguing and puzzling objects, a point illustrated by the Qianlong period white jade pin-form attachment with camel-head terminal (no. 48). The origin of the carving is without question the imperial workshops, but its usage is a source of confusion. It is the writer’s opinion that it was created as a hairpin, perhaps with a gold pin attached to the end and that it is too thin and delicate for use as a Mughal-style dagger handle. It is also possible that it served as a model for a larger Indian jade dagger hilt, which was very much to the Qianlong emperor’s tastes.

In the selection of hardstones, the shape of the Liao/Jin dynasty agate box (no. 57) is unusual, as it is normally found in jade or metalwork. Another of note is the Qianlong period agate vase (no. 60), previously in the collection of R. H. R. Palmer, that showcases the skill of the craftsman working with a remarkably coloured material.

Among the bronzes, the weight in the form of a humorous frolicking horse lying on its back (no. 83) is striking and aptly transmits the theme of this exhibition as it is presumably inspired by several paintings from the Song to Ming dynasties.

The finely carved amber model of the seated bodhisattva (no. 74) was previously in the collection of one of the great dealers of our time, Douglas J. K. Wright, who regarded it highly enough for it to be featured in the 1973 International Art Treasures Exhibition in Bath. Amber is very brittle; not many early objects have survived in good condition. Thus this delicate carving of an unusual subject in almost pristine condition is extraordinary.

Finally, the fine pair of imperial zitan stools (no. 88) carved in the European Rococo style represents the Qing court’s fascination with Western designs as well as influences from Jesuit artisans. The stools were made in the late Qianlong to early Jiaqing period to decorate Western-style palaces in Beijing and were previously in the collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller.

Nader Rasti