jade, from emperors to art deco
Wednesday 9 November 2016 : Jade, Emperors at Art Deco conference visit by Sylvie Ahmadian, Specialist lecturer in Asian art, attached to the Guimet Museum.
This exhibition is dedicated exclusively to jade, emblematic material of China. It was realized with the support of the National Museum of the Palace of Taipei, the castle of Fontainebleau, French museums and the Cartier House.
The Chinese have, since the Neolithic, recognized the qualities of this particularly hard stone (6 for nephrite and 7 for jadeite in the Mohs scale which goes up to 10 for diamonds) and were fascinated by the variety of colors. They appreciated very early on the sound of the jade which was used for the sonorous stones, they also liked the satin softness obtained after polishing. In addition to its aesthetic qualities, jade was very early adorned with spiritual and moral values: Confucius considered it a symbol of beauty, sincerity and prudence.
However the word yu (reference to precious, treasure) which refers to the jade encompasses a variety of stones ranging from carnelian (fire jade) to rock crystal (water jade). From the 18rd century, the import of Jadeite from Burma will be reserved for the court and will enchant emperors who appreciate its color, ranging from emerald green to amethyst-purple and its greater translucency.
Since the Neolithic period the stone had been extracted from Chinese regions (Ningshao, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia), but the exhaustion of these local sources and the increase in demand forced the Chinese, under the Han, to turn to jade from Turkestan (present-day Xingjiang), in particular that of the regions of Khotan, Yarkand and the Kunlun mountains. Khotan jade often comes in the form of large pebbles rolled into riverbeds, wrapped in a "skin" that must be sawn to find the precious material. Even today, the Khotanese are specialized in jade “fishing”.
The hardness of the stone only allowed the work using an abrasive consisting of, among others, quartz, garnet powder, shell powder (and diamond powder in modern times). This explains the long work that was necessary to achieve an object and therefore its price. The block was sided and then we drew the pattern with pomegranate juice that has the distinction of resisting the abrasive. In addition to metal saws of different sizes, drills and chisels were used. Once the three-dimensional carved object was polished with wood, leather, etc. It is interesting to note that instruments and methods have changed little over the centuries. It will be necessary to wait for the twentieth century for the use of electric instruments.
A dragon shaped pendant carved in a green nephrite dates from the Oriental Zhou, Kingdom of the Fighting Period (4rd s. BC. BC). The body of the animal is decorated with small volutes in slight relief called by the Chinese guwen, "Germinating grain". This motif will become more and more systematic until the Han period and is also found on bronzes.
The exhibition does not follow a chronological order but begins with the 18rd century, when emperors particularly appreciated the stone, then go back to the ancient times, then the jades of Hindustan, the jades of Fontainebleau Castle and, finally, the jade pieces loaned by the Cartier House.
As mentioned before, a whole set of semi-precious stones were also considered yu. A pomegranate and lotus water cup (18rd-19rd s.) is carved into a carnelian (fire jade) while a vase with ram-shaped handles (Qianlong period 1736-1795) is carved in a block of rock crystal (jade of water). A brushpot (18rd-19rd s.) is chiseled in lapis lazuli. Sometimes, to improve the appearance of the room, the nephritis was heated to obtain a reddish color, as in a small miniature mountain decorated with deer and figures (Qianlong period). This method is called by the Chinese "grilled skin" and made it possible to compensate for the lack of colored veins in the stone. A bowl with a lid decorated with a lotus pod (18rd-19rd s.) was made in a beautiful translucent green spinach jadeite.
The artists decided on the sculpture to be made according to the stone and its colors: an example is provided by a small pendant depicting two badgers (18rd-19rd s.) intertwined, one being brown-green and the other white-yellow.
A sphere with three rings imbricated in nephrite (Dyn Ming 1368-1644) symbolizes the sky, the earth and the man. Placed flat, it evokes the disc bi, symbol of the sky. The inner ring is adorned with sun, stars and clouds, the middle features a dragon motif (symbol of the ruling ruler) and the outer ring is decorated with mountains and sea waves for the earth.
Jade was also used as a mark of distinction, especially for making scepters ruyi and tablets gui. The tablet was used in ceremonial ceremonies and mediated to enter into communication with supernatural forces. An example is decorated with the twelve imperial symbols. Moreover, since the Zhou Dynasty, it is also a badge of dignity and a statutory attribute. But the jade accessory is also a social marker and the 1521 edict limiting the wearing of jade shows some excesses. A set of twenty white jade plates with openwork decoration of birds and flowers adorned a mandarin belt of 19rd s.
During the reign of Yongzheng (1723-1735) the jade is more rare whereas under Qianlong (1736-1795), one can note the passion of the emperor by the number of collected objects bearing his mark, this due to the fact that the province of Xinjiang is annexed and that we import Siberian jade and Jadeite from Burma.
Plates are engraved with imperial texts or poems of the emperor. A rusty nephrite plaque, originally from the Neolithic period, was recut and engraved with an imperial writing. This plaque, mounted on a screen, refers to an anecdote: the emperor fearing that his calligraphy was not worthy of the tablet, asked Zhang Ruo'ai in 1746 to engrave his poem on the sandalwood plinth. Eight years later, in 1754, Qianlong wrote a new eulogy of this piece and himself calligraphed two poems asking a jade craftsman to transcribe them onto the tablet.
Another object collected by the emperor is also the subject of a writing: a cup in white nephrite that the emperor believed to date from the Han dynasty. When he consulted the expert Yao Zongren, he explained to him that it was a counterfeit and that it had been sculpted by his grandfather. Qianlong did not rebel and placed the cup in a wooden box engraved with a text describing the stages he had gone through to build his judgment on the cup. A green nephrite box is a real cabinet of miniature curiosities that belonged to the emperor. It is compartmentalized to present a collection of various objects in jade, lacquered wood, bamboo, rock crystal, amethyst, agate, lapis lazuli, amber, etc.
The exhibition takes a leap backwards to approach Neolithic jades. A dragon-pig zhulong remarkable for its size (H. 16 cm) is carved in a green-olive nephrite stained with rust. This mysterious creature, typical of the Longshan culture (3500-3000 BC), has a coiled serpentine body, two erect ears, round eyes and a pleated snout. A bi four-section shaped huang, carved from a pale green-yellow nephrite, is native to the Qijia culture, northwestern China (2300-1500 BC). The production of jade disc rings is attested as early as the fourth millennium BC and has continued to grow.
Two serrated ceremony blades yazhang, in olive-green nephrite, come from the Shimao culture, northern China (1800-1500 BC). The one with a triangular top prefigures tablets gui whose use will continue until the end of the Qing. A remarkable comb in brown nephrite dates from the end of the Shang (1250-1046). This comb, trimmed with eight teeth, is adorned in its central part by a mask of taotie above scrolls symbolizing the claws of the animal and a tiger at its summit. A pair of dragon-shaped pendants carved from a rust-stained dark green jade dates back to the Oriental Zhou, Warring States Period (4rd s. av. JC). Their body is wrapped in an S-shape and is covered with the guwen spiral pattern "germinating grain".
A white nephrite tiger decorated plate from the Eastern Han Dynasty (2rd-1er s. BC. JC) is not unlike the bronzes of the Ordos. The white tiger of the West is here treated in a compact way which gives it a certain monumentality despite its small size.
A dragon pattern openwork of the Liao or Song dynasties (first half of 11rd s.) is worked in a spring green nephrite. The technical prowess associating double-sided chiseling and openwork highlights the dragon that ripples on a carpet of scrolls tight interlocking. The literati have surrounded themselves with emblematic objects and have collected antiques but also, sometimes, have contented themselves with archaic objects. A vase shaped like cong (symbol of the earth), carved in a rusty jade, dates from the Southern Song (1127-1368). Rhyton with an archaic decoration (16rd-17rd s.) is carved from a clear nephrite lightly stained with rust and gray. A cup called "Mazarin" in white jade and adorned with chilong (dragons without horn) would go back to the beginning of 15rd s. She entered the royal collection of Louis XIV after the death of Cardinal Mazarin.
The Mongolian expansion will spawn the different khanates and the Yuan empire in China. The khanate of Djaghatai became 14rd century the Timurid Empire under Tamerlane (1336-1405) with capital Samarkand. Timurids (1370-1508) enjoyed Khotan's green spinach jade. A hanap with a dragon-shaped handle carved in a beautiful green nephrite reminds by its shape the metal pieces inlaid with the Iranian sphere, but the dragon that decorates the handle is Chinese-inspired. It could be from the middle of 15rd s. and entered the royal collections between 1681 and 1683. A quadrilobed cut with a dragon-shaped handle, from the end of 15rd s., is carved from a dark green nephrite and encrusted with gold. The Moorish-style arabesque decoration is an early example of jade dishware enjoyed by the Ottomans.
The timid heritage will be brought to perfection by the Mughals of India (1526-1858) as evidenced by the white jade mirror lapel inlaid with gold and precious stones (first half of the 17rd s.). The dagger with handle with white jade horse's head inlaid with gold, rubies and emeralds (18rd s.) and the white jade wine cup inlaid with gold, ruby and emerald (18rd s.) demonstrate the virtuosity of Indian lapidaries.
The creation of the salons and the Chinese Museum of the Empress Eugenie at the castle of Fontainebleau took place in 1861. A large part of the objects came from shipments of the expeditionary force who participated in the looting of the Summer Palace in 1860, including the rosary made from several mandarin necklaces that was heavily criticized by public opinion hostile to the Chinese campaign. A cup and its gold display stand, on the other hand, a gift from the ambassador of Siam to Napoleon III. The white jade cup covered in gold and its gold display stand may have been reserved for the use of a Chinese empress.
After the chinoiseries of 18rd century, the taste for China is redeveloping from the end of 19rd s. to reach its peak with the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1925. The Cartier house, from 1923 will sublimate jade and Chinese jade objects in the art-deco style. A set of clocks, including the “mysterious elephant pendulum” or the “landscape pendulum” which use Chinese jade sculptures by magnifying them with a mount enriched with gold and precious stones, left the workshops between 1925 and 1930. A cigarette case takes up the Chinese motif of the lady in a garden, a motif often encountered on plates from the 18th century.rd s. Nail of the Cartier collection, the necklace of twenty-seven balls of emerald green jadeite and of an incomparable translucency was mounted by Cartier in 1934 for the actress Barbara Hutton at the request of the prince Mdivani, her husband.