Sunday, June 16, 2013




Period: Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911).
Date: 18th century.
Medium: Nephrite jade
Colour: Grey/white with a hint of celadon and some small dark inclusions.
Dimensions: H. 31.5 cm; W. 14.5 cm.

The low-relief pattern is of Mughal design, finely carved with thin walls, octagonal in shape.  The lid has a tall hollow knob, also octagonal which is decorated with a chrysanthemum on the top.  The tall foot-rim is flared and hollow.  The handles are chrysanthemums, in pierced work, with the stem and leaves forming a loop through which a loose ring hangs.



Period: Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911)
Date: 18th century.
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Pale celadon with russet and brown tonings and small black inclusions.
Dimensions: H. 32.5 cm; W. 14.7 cm.

The hexagonal jar is decorated around the body with a continuing pattern of a hunting scene.  The foot rim is flared and hollowed and the handles are formed by the heads of bearded rams.


Period: 18th century.
Date: Possibly Yongzheng.
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Striking yellow-green with brown markings.
Dimensions: H. 25.3 cm; W. 14.5 cm; D. 6 cm.

The ovoid jar is decorated in low-relief carving, depicting two sinewy dragons standing with heads bowed towards the flaming pearl between them.  The handles are elephant heads each with the trunk forming a loop through which a ring hangs. A finely carved dragon runs down each side, with head turned to look upwards.  The lid is decorated with stylized dragons and the knob with clouds.  The top of the knob has a diamond shaped pattern divided into quarters, each quarter decorated with fine geometric spriral leiwen patterns.

There are a few stories about the dragon and the flaming pearl.  Perhaps the one that strikes a chord is that they are fighting over the sacred pearl of wisdom or, in early Taoism, yang energy.  In Buddhism it is more literally the pearl in the lotus, a jewel that grants all wishes.


Period: Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911)
Date: 18th to 19th century.
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Light olive/celadon with light brown tonings.
Dimensions: H. 17 cm; Diameter 11 cm.

The simple but attractive pattern of the lobed jar is in the form of lotus petals, and the inside walls are plain.  The lid is topped by a lotus bud and the lobes of the petals surround it, forming a scalloped flaring edge.  The bulbous shoulders of the jar slope down to a narrow recessed foot rim.



Period: Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911).
Date: 18th century.
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Creamy white with slight brown tone.
Dimensions: H. 25.5 cm; W. 16 cm; D. 6.8 cm.

The ovoid jar is decorated in the archaistic style.  Emulating the wonderful art of the past showed the respect in which it was held.  The Ming and Qing dynasties used these early patterns as inspiration for fine works in jade.

The domed lid has a plain knob and a taotie on the back and front.  The vessel has a handle on each side composed of an animal head with a loop and ring.  The neck has a row of upward pointing leaf patterns, each holding a cicada with head down.  This is followed by dragons facing each other.  The main body of the vessel is decorated with a large taotie on each side.  The foot slopes outward and has two bands of fine spirals or leiwen.  These fine spirals fill all the spaces in the background of the patterns.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Period: Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911).
Date: 18th century.
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Light yellowish green.
Dimensions: L. 21 cm; H. 14 cm; W. 5.5 cm.

The main theme of the carving is the root of the ginseng plant with lateral roots curling and twisting around it, encompassing a Chinese coin and two small children.  The root is considered to be an aphrodisiac, hence the children incorporated in the design.  The Chinese coin means wealth and prosperity.

I know little personally about ginseng except that it is highly regarded in China as a therapeutic herb.  I found a great article on the web published by Cheryl Dennett, who researched the subject and enjoys sharing her knowledge, so I know she will not mind me using her words.

Ginseng has been used for thousands of years as a natural remedy. But, there have been some beliefs about ginseng that are quite fanciful. Here are some myths and superstitions about the herb ginseng that you may not have heard before now. The root of the ginseng plant is the part that is used. It was used as an omnipotent healer in ancient China. 
It was believed in that country that the herb grew when lightening struck a clear stream. They also believe it is a cure for anything that ails a human. It was used for treating colic in babies and all the way through life to be used to help with the hardships of old age. 

It is believed that ginseng can perform miracles with the human body. It was used to improve every aspect of human life including mental powers, extend the life span, and increasing the libido. And, it is believed to be able to do all of this in the same person at the same time.
A Chinese herbalist named Shen'nong Bencaojing from the first century believed ginseng to be a miracle cure-all, as well. He stated, "Ginseng is a tonic to the five viscera, quieting the animal spirits, stabilizing the soul, preventing fear, expelling the vicious energies, brightening the eye, improving vision and prolonging life." For this reason, it was regularly taken by many emperors of China and their households.

Ginseng was not cheap in ancient China. For many years, it was sold for many times its weight in silver. It is difficult to grow and therefore quite rare, at times.

The ginseng plant only grows to about 12 inches in height. And, it takes 6 to 7 years for the plant to achieve this much growth. In that time, the plant will extract so many minerals that the soil will take about 10 years to recover. So, each time a mature plant is harvested for its roots, another plant can not be cultivated in the same space for a long time. This contributed to the high cost of the herb.
Ginseng was found growing wild in Canada in the eighteenth century. It was exported to China at that time. But, now, North American ginseng is consumed by people of the West in teas and powders. It is still believed to be somewhat of a cure-all.

It is possible to grow ginseng in your back yard. But, it is a long and difficult process. But, it may be worth it if the myths of it being a cure-all are true. So, you might just have found a fountain of youth you can grow in your own home garden.

Period: Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911).
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Light green with grey-brown.
Dimensions: H. 19 cm; W. 19 cm; D. 5 cm.

Ginseng is an aphrodisiac, bringing children, wealth is expressed by a coin and an ingot, the fungus lingzhi is associated with longevity, and two bats for happiness and good fortune.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Period: Possibly Shang dynasty.
Medium: Nephrite jade.

Shown below are a small group of figures, which do not conform to what could be considered the norm in ancient Chinese art. They are unusual and confronting in design. The closest relationship we could find to any documented artefacts are with the bronze figures, heads and masks excavated from the archaeological site in Sanxingdui. The site is recognised as one of the most important ancient remains in the world. It was first discovered by a farmer in 1929 and in 1986 two major sacrificial pits were found. However, with no texts or mention of this culture in other records, little is known about this extraordinary find. It has become known as the Sanxingdui culture, and archaeologists identify it as the ancient kingdom of Shu. Radiocarbon dating of the artefacts recovered dates them to the 12th - 11th century BC.

Reading through the Introduction by Yeung Kin-Fong in Jade Carving in Chinese Archaeology, Vol. 1, he says: “Archaeologically, Shang culture may be divided into two different types – the Erligang type, the earlier, and the Xiaotun type, the later. Few in number and regarded as relics of early Shang, the jades of the Erligang period have mainly been discovered in Zhengzhou, Henan, Taixicun, Gaocheng County, Hebei and Panlongcheng, Huangpi County, Hubei. Most of the materials concerned are not yet published, and it is difficult to give a comprehensive discussion on these isolated finds at the present moment. On the other hand, jades of the Xiaotun period, regarded as relics of late Shang, were well known to people as early as in the 1930s. A great number of jades, illegally and unscientifically excavated mostly from Anyang, Henan, are illustrated in many books and monographs.”

In discussing the style of carving in the late Shang, he says:
“The fashionable motifs of surface decoration on jades of late Shang are spiral, yun-wen (deformed spirals), “scale”, segmented pattern, the distinctive “Shang eye” and animal face or toatie. These patterns are often rendered in crudely incised double lines, which were produced by means of 'gou' and 'che', and are the most significant characteristics of jade decoration in this period. The crudely incised double lines are actually two grooves known as 'yinwen' in Chinese term. They lie side by side in pairs and each is bevelled on the edge away from the groove, so that the space between them seems to stand in relief above the surface and looks like 'yangwen' (raised lines) which is seldom found in surface decoration on jades in the late Shang Period. The true 'yangwen' stands out in relief and is produced by grinding down the remaining surface beyond the space mentioned above.”

Getting back to the group of figures in our collection: When we first saw them and for a long while after, we thought they could be dated to the Zhou dynasty. However, the quality of the raised line work on them points to an earlier time, perhaps the Erligang period of the Shang dynasty or one of the cultures running concurrently.

We can only speculate as to the purpose for which they were produced.  They may be deities, perhaps a form of ancestor worship.  The differences in them may indicate the special gift that each one possesses.  The wing-like protrusions may suggest flight.  It is impossible to find a reason for the holes drilled in odd places on each figure.  The reason for their existence is every bit as mysterious as the bronzes of Sanxingdui.

Dimensions: H. 17 cm; W. 8 cm; D. 8.5 cm.

Unusual features: The ribbed headdress is reminiscent of that seen on the small kneeling figure found in the Shang tomb of Lady Fu Hao.  The protruding eyes are large and bear a resemblance to the bronze masks found in Sanxingdui.  The large ears are another unusual feature as are the wing-like projections from the shoulders.  The figure holds something with both hands - perhaps a symbol of authority.  There is a single drill hole in the back of the head.


The picture above of the spiral decoration on the robe of the figure demonstrates true 'yangwen' carving, with the line work standing in relief.

Dimensions: H. 18.3 cm; W. 8 cm; D. 9.5 cm.

Unusual features: This is the only female figure in the group, and also has the large ears and wing-like protrusions from the shoulders.  She carries what appears to be a blade in each hand, with the tip pointing downward.  The ribbed headdress slopes down towards the forehead and curls under.  Two holes drilled off-centre, one at the back and one at the front of the figure, are conically shaped and show that a hollow drill has been used.

The jade shows considerable alteration in bands of raised crystals, with several dissolution cavities visible.

Dimensions: H. 19 cm; W. 8.3 cm; D. 7.5 cm.

Unusual features: Starting at the top of the head, an impressive flange rises from between the eyes and widens as it follows the shape of the top of the head and protrudes behind it.  The back of the head has a series of curved furrows and the ears point outwards.  The most unusual feature is the mouth which has two shallow drilled holes at each corner and three larger drill holes in the middle, using a hollow drill and leaving the cores intact.  A single drill hole is off-centre to the left of the back.  The arms are hollowed out to approximately 1 cm. deep, with no hands.  The figure is in a kneeling position.

Dimensions: H. 19.5 cm; W. 8 cm; D. 9 cm.

Unusual features: The most unusual feature in this carving has to be the eyes.  The pupils protrude on cylindrical stems.  This feature is described as telescopic eyes in an art and archaeology site showing the Sanxingdui Museum and some of the special artefacts housed therein.  To the right is a picture of a bronze mask in the museum collection.

This figure also holds up a weapon in each hand, with the tips of the blades pointing upward.  The large ribbed headdress has two protrusions at the top that have a section cut out of the top of each.  It steps down to curve over the top of the forehead.  The legs have no feet, but display what looks like four claws on each side.  The back has a narrow pleated section falling from the waist, perhaps depicting a tail.

Two holes have been drilled in the figure - one in the middle of the back of the head and the other on the right hip, closer to the back. The large pointed ears and wing-like protrusions on the shoulders are similar to what is seen on most of the figures.

Dimensions: H. 20.6 cm; W. 7 cm; D. 8.4 cm.

Unusual features: The arms holding downward pointing weapons are backwards.  The wing-like protrusions are on each side of the head, where the ears are on the other figures.  A flange of scrolls protrudes from the top of the head.  This figure has four drill holes - one in the middle of the back, one slightly off-centre in the front, one on the right side and one in the left side of the neck.  The bottom of the garment has three ribs running around it.

Dimensions: H. 20 cm; W. 7.5 cm; D. 9.8 cm.

Unusual features: There are two horns, one small one protruding from the bridge of the nose and a larger one from the forehead of this strange figure.  Two branched horn-like protrusions rise from the top of the head.  All the other figures display distinctive cheek bones, similar to those of the Sanxingdui bronzes, but here they are defined by raised angular bands ending in a point on each side of the face.  Three small holes are drilled between the lips, and two raised and pitted balloon-shaped patches are at each corner of the mouth.  As with most of the other figures in the group, this one also has its arms extended grasping a weapon in each hand with the tips pointing upward.  The ears are large, wings sweep back from the shoulders and two drill holes, one in the middle of the front and the other off-centre on the right side.

Dimensions: H. 21.4 cm; W. 7.4 cm; D. 8.7 cm.

Unusual features: The ribbed headdress slopes downward and curls over the forehead.  A projection from the middle slopes towards the back.  The cheek bones are defined and form a curl at the tip on each side.The plain wing-like protrusions coming off each shoulder have a knob at the base with a hole drilled through the middle of each one.  The hands are held in front of the body and covered by something ribbed and triangular falling softly.  A hole is drilled on each side, evenly spaced, and the garment is decorated around the bottom and back of the figure with scrolling patterns.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


In the history of China, the Qianlong Emperor was the greatest collector and patron of Chinese jade. The middle of his illustrious reign and the conquest of Xinjiang marked an important phase in the art of Mughal and Mughal-style jades. It opened the way to increase the importation of these jades which were also used as tribute to the emperor. He admired the fine working of the Mughal jades, especially the thinness and translucency of the jade itself, likening it to “the wings of a cicada”. He devoted more than seventy poems expressing his love of the art.

Chinese jade carvers quickly learned to emulate the Mughal-style of carving and even surpassed the original works, producing fine cups, bowls, plates, vessels and containers embellished with botanical patterns. The chrysanthemum and lotus were an especially popular theme.

These three lidded containers are wonderful examples of the Mughal-style of art in China during the latter half of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. Perfect symmetry is the central feature of this art.

Period: Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911).
Date: Late 18th century.
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Pale celadon with minor brown markings.
Dimensions: H. 11 cm; L. 20 cm; D. 10.5 cm.

The eye-shape of the container is so symmetrical that the lid, which has a recessed edge on the inside, fits perfectly either way. The stone is highly translucent, and the floral decoration of fine curling stems of leaves and flowers covers both the lid and body. The finial is in the form of a chrysanthemum with three rows of petals. The container sits on a narrow foot rim which follows the eye-shape.

Period: Qing dynasty (1644-1911).
Date: Late 18th century.
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Yellow with grey/brown bands.
Dimensions: H. 8.5 cm; L. & D. 11.8 cm.

The container is divided into four lobes. Each lobe is carved with a scene in low-relief, depicting trees, birds and animals. The lid and the edge of the container are recessed so as to fit together. Each of the four lobes of the lid are decorated with a framed pattern of a chrysanthemum with stems, leaves and flower buds. The finial is formed by a chrysanthemum carved in the shape of the container. A low foot rim forms the base.

A patch of deep whitening, sometimes referred to as calcification has occurred on a section of the lid, penetrating the jade.  The shape may indicate that something came in close contact with this area causing the severe alteration. Alternatively, it could have been a flaw in the jade which altered.

Period: Qing dynasty (1644-1911).
Date: Late 18th century.
Medium: Nephrite jade.
Colour: Yellowish-green.
Dimensions: H.8.2 cm; L. 18 cm; Diameter: 12.5 cm.

The lotus is the inspiration for the design of this beautiful container. It is made up of eight petals which also decorate the finial, base and foot rim. Tendrils with flowers, leaves and buds encircle the lid and body of the container. A handle protrudes from each side, in a geometric angular shape, topped by a ribbed platform. The inside of the bowl and the lid are recessed so as to fit together perfectly.