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editorials - November - December 1995

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Archaic Jades in the Lantien Shanfeng Collection
National Palace Museum, Taipei
JULIAN THOMPSON
Photographs courtesy of the Nien Hsi Foundation

A REMARKABLE exhibition of ancient Chinese jade opened at the National Palace Museum, Taipei on October 10th, 1995, to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the museum. The jades are drawn from five private collections, the major contributions coming from the Lantien Shanfang Collection, formed over the last six years by the Taiwanese collector Mr Hsu Chou Li, Chairman of the Nien Hsi Foundation, whose father's birthday also fell on the opening day of the exhibition; it is in his honour that Mr Hsu has dedicated his collection. Mr Hsu belongs to a select group of highly successful Taiwanese businessmen, who in the past twenty years have formed collections of Chinese art of the highest quality. His own business, the Yung Tay Engineering Co. Ltd, has engaged in the import and construction of elevators during the period of the rapid development of Taiwan, and he was first inspired to collect by his cousins of the Chang family, whose interests range from car distribution to real estate development and whose magnificent collection of Chinese art are now preserved in the Hung Hsi Museum in Taipei. (See ARTS OF ASIA, September-October 1993, Chang Foundation issue.) As in Europe or America in the past, the energies and resources of the industrialist or businessman, turned to the collection of art, are enabling great collections to be formed.

Mr Hsu has wide taste in Chinese art, collecting Qing (1644-1911) dynasty paintings and early ceramics as well as bonsai. His jade collection, which now comprises over one thousand pieces, is mainly devoted to the earlier periods of jade carving to which the Taipei exhibition and this article is also limited. Nevertheless, it spans a period of almost four thousand years, from the fourth millennium B.C. of the Neolithic (circa 6500-1900 B.C.) period to the Han (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) dynasty. In Neolithic times, jade had already assumed an important role in Chinese culture which has been maintained until the present day, a tradition which is directly continued in the formation by Mr Hsu of his collection of jades.

In contrast to many collections which have started with the casual purchase of an object that caught the buyer's eye in an antique shop window, Mr Hsu's collection of jade was carefully planned before any acquisitions were made. The concept of the collection was developed with Mr Chang Wei Hwa, Mr Hsu's dealer and mentor, who in 1989 realised that the availability of ancient jade carvings on the market could again make possible the formation of a collection to emulate those made in the West in the twenties and thirties both in scope and in quality. Mr Hsu visited the finest of the collections, which are in the United States, and was particularly impressed by the Winthrop Collection in the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, and by the Nelson Atkins Gallery in Kansas City; also by the great holdings of ancient jades in the Sackler Gallery, Washington, assembled more recently but very largely from older Western collections. The ancient jades which he saw in these collections conformed perfectly with his own conservative and traditional taste in Chinese art. The opportunity was there to take a new direction in collecting, with the added satisfaction of being able to return to China, in Taiwan, important Chinese art which was otherwise destined for collections abroad. The combination of Mr Hsu's dedication to the project with Mr Chang's expertise in this specialist area have now made the idea a reality.

1. Jade pig-dragon
Hongshan culture (4th millennium B.C.)
Neolithic
Height 9 cms, width 6.6 cms
The collection was planned to comprise not only masterpieces of ancient jade carving, some of which are illustrated in this article, but to give as full as possible a representation of all the types of jade which were manufactured over the period. In this way, not only could the collection satisfy the connoisseur of Chinese art, but also provide the scholar and the student with a very wide range of material representing all phases of carving, allowing the practical comparison of numbers of closely related pieces with their prototypes and sequels. The choice of pieces reflects Mr Chang's own taste, his sensitivity to the beauty of the medium and sure judgement of authenticity. It was his decision to restrict the collection to pieces of certain date, avoiding material to which it is as yet impossible to give a confident attribution in the absence of confirmative evidence from excavation - hence the preponderance of Han and earlier pieces in the collection.

In this article, a selection of the finest pieces in the collection will be illustrated and described; all of these are included in the National Palace Museum exhibition. The earliest jade shown here is a "pig-dragon" pendant (1), characteristic of the Neolithic Hongshan culture which flourished in North China, in Liaoning province and in Inner Mongolia, during the fourth millennium B.C. The form is characterised by a simplified dragon's head which almost touches the end of the tail, forming a slot in the ring, though in this case the tail and chin are not completely separated. The Hongshan jades are characterised by a finely worked surface with simple rounded details seen here on the eyes and wrinkled nose of the dragon. The tombs in which they have been found are remarkable for the absence of artefacts in other media, which accompany jades in burials of later date.


2. Columnar jade

Liangzhu culture (3rd millennium B.C.)
Late Neolithic
Height 4cms
The columnar object (2), is another Neolithic piece, though as much as a thousand years later in date, coming from the Liangzhu culture which had its centre in southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang provinces, not far from Shanghai. The jade has changed through burial to an opaque creamy buff colour, leaving only traces of the originally translucent yellowish stone. The principal decoration of this piece is characteristic of Liangzhu jades, comprising two masks, one on either side of a wide lower register of decoration. Each has two incised annular eyes placed in wider circles connected with slanting lines to the nose, the surface of the face decorated by delicately engraved scroll patterns that seem to look inward to the leiwan pattern so characteristic of the ground decoration of Shang (circa 1500-1050 B.C.) bronzes.

This piece is unusual in that the upper is not the usual removable cover and the presence of a hole almost 2 cms deep, drilled into the base, seems to indicate that it was attached as a finial to a larger object. In contrast to the Hongshan tombs, where the numbers of jades buried were small, in some Liangzhu tombs several hundred jades have been discovered, including large numbers of beads, accompanied by finely made ceramics.


3. Jade human head

Late Shang (13th-11th
century B.C.)
Height 2.8 cms
The next two pieces (3, 4) are both from the Shang dynasty, and are more than a thousand years later than the Liangzhu piece just described, dating from the thirteenth to eleventh century B.C. The first is a very rare representation of a human head, in largely altered yellowish jade, which must have functioned as a pendant since an "ox-nose" loophole is drilled into the flat top of the head. The features of the face are indicated by incised lines, the typical Shang eye with pointed corners and large pupil. In this stylised form, it is shaped like the ancient character mu (eye) which was subsequently turned on its side in later script. Human images have been found in the great tomb of the Shang Empress Fu Hao of circa 1200 B.C., which was found intact at Anyang in 1976 and contained over seven hundred jades, though they are very much less common than representations of animals. The flattened dragon pendant is of similar date with deep notches along the back, curled up nose and short, sharply hooked tail. The arc which forms the lower outline of the body is such an accurate segment of a circle that it is probable the piece was carved from a section of an earlier bi disc.



4. Dragon-shaped pendant
Late Shang (13th-11th century B.C.)
Length 5.2 cms
Jessica Rawson in her recently published Chinese Jade: From the Neolithic to the Qing, an extended catalogue of the great collections of jade formed by Sir Joseph Hotung in Hong Kong now on loan at the British Museum, provides detailed and compelling evidence for the extensive use in post-Neolithic jade carving of earlier pieces, either complete or fragmentary, which were adapted to conform with the style of the period. She also emphasises the diverse sources of jades in tombs such as that of Fu Hao, which contained pieces of Neolithic date, demonstrating the great antiquity of the collection jades in China, their subsequent preservation made possible by the exceptional durability of the material.



5. Jade comb
Late Shang to early Western Zhou
(12th-10th century B.C.)
Length 8.7 cms, width 5.4 cms
The remarkable jade comb (5), in pale grey-green stone, still showing traces of the cinnabar powder it was buried with, dates from the end of the Shang dynasty or the beginning of the Western Zhou (1050-771 B.C.) dynasty, circa 1100 B.C. The carved decorations of birds juxtaposes two styles of surface ornament, one composed of incised lines as seen on the two birds which flank the handle, the other of raised lines which define the outlines and simple details of the birds decorating the flattened sides of the back of the comb. A small tube on top of the flared end of the handle provides a means of securing the comb by a cord which may have been intended to pass through the two loops formed by the long curled crests of the birds below.

The animal mask (6), is of the same date as the comb. It is one-sided, pierced with four small holes probably for attachment to leather or cloth. The formalisation of the frontal view of an animal's head, known as a taotie mask, is the dominant motif of Shang and Western Zhou bronze decoration, though its use in jade carving is less prevalent. The two pendants (7), belong to the end of a long series of bird-shaped jades which became


6. Jade animal mask
Late Shang to early Western Zhou
(12th-10th century B.C.)
Height 5.1 cms
progressively more stylised, leading to the much elongated shape seen here. Apart from the head, the form is very similar to contemporary fish pendants, the wings resembling fins and the flat end of the tail with a central notch. The late Western Zhou and early Eastern Zhou periods are represented here by two pieces. The earlier jade dates from the late ninth or early eight century B.C. (8) It is a dragon pendant of flat, plaque form with complex outline and details carved in double, parallel lines. The dragon's tail takes the form of a sharp retroflexed hook and the nose has a short curled snout. The central section is more difficult to interpret, suggesting a human face.
The tiger pendant is formed from a very thin plaque, only 2.5 mms thick of brownish- yellow jade with white mottled suffusions (9). The outline follows overall the shape of an arched, semi-annular huang pendant, slightly cut away to form the silhouette of the tiger with lowered head, drawn-in feet and arching back. As with the dragon pendant, the surface ornament is on both sides, using pairs of parallel lines, which delineate scale motifs on the legs and dragon's heads facing in different directions on the body, motifs also commonly found on contemporary bronzes.


7. Pendants of bird/fish shape
Middle Western Zhou (10th-9th century B.C.)
Lengths 12.4 cms and 11.7 cms

The craftsmanship of this piece is excellent and it is pierced in four places, perhaps for attachment to other jade ornaments as an ensemble whose use required decoration on both sides as opposed to a one-sided plaque which was sewn onto another material.



8. Dragon pendant
Late Western Zhou (9th-early 8th century B.C.)
Length 9.5 cms


9. Tiger-shaped pendant

Early Spring and Autumn (8th-early 7th century B.C.)
Length 11.8 cms





10. Handle-shaped jade
Late Spring and Autumn (6th-early 5th century B.C.)
Length 12.5 cms


11. Columnar jade
Early Warring States
(5th-4th century B.C.)
Length 17.9 cms
Mr. Hsu's collection is particularly rich in jades of the late Spring and Autumn (770-475 B.C.), Warring States (475-221 B.C.) and early Han periods, from the early eighth to the second century B.C., the centuries when China was divided into a number of competing states, sharing a culture but struggling fiercely for territorial control and culminating in the eventual unification of the country under the Qin (221-207 B.C.) dynasty in 221 B.C. From the point of view of the development of jade carving a turning point comes in the sixth century B.C., when a new type of jade decoration was introduced, characterised by intricate, repeated formal patterns, the elements of which are in relief, necessitating exceptionally laborious work for the carver. This type of decoration is alien to the repertoire of techniques of carving to which earlier ornament seems to have been relatively well adapted. This mismatch between ornament and technique suggests that the source of decoration comes from another medium, and Jessica Rawson argues that the derivation is from work in gold, and the elements of the ornament itself seem to be derived from Central Asian sources.

The handle-shaped piece is of great interest (10). The decoration is typical of the sixth century, comprising a repeated taotie mask motif in relief divided by transverse ribs with an incised rope-like pattern. The jade has been altered to a warm buff tone through burial, now showing the decoration to best advantage. The shape is frequently found in the Shang and Western Zhou period but is generally absent after the ninth century, strongly suggesting that the present piece is in fact an earlier jade, probably lacking decoration, which was embellished in the sixth century. The carved decoration of the almost cylindrical jade is closely related (11), though here the principal motif is a tight C-scroll. Just as the use of the handles is still unknown, the purpose of this shape, too, must remain a matter for speculation.

One of the characteristic shapes of the Warring States period is the huang, a plaque of arched form, sometimes almost semi-annular as here (12). The surface is covered by a dense pattern of small relief spirals, known as guwen which may represent sprouting grain, a type of decoration very commonly encountered on different shapes of jade throughout the period. At each of the flat ends of the pendant a small slot and a curled motif contrasting with the guwen are minimal indications of animal heads. Illustrated is a group of pieces from the fifth and fourth century B.C. which were apparently found together though it is known how they were originally arranged (13). The four plaques are fine examples of openwork decoration using dragon and phoenix motifs and the small rings and pendants are also typical of the period. The circular objects at the bottom of the illustration are of a different category, belonging to the standard repertoire of jade sword fittings. They are the pommels which were attached to the top of the hilt, often decorated with guwen but here incised with simple concentric rings.

Among the most remarkable pieces in the Lantien Shanfang Collection is the very large pair of openwork plaques illustrated on the cover of the magazine, to which there appears to be no counterpart in the archaeological literature. The plaques are composed of a tracery of dragon, phoenix and snake motifs, mirrored on the two plaques which together form a large horned mask with oval eyes and solid nose. There are six slots around the edges if each plaque, allowing straps to be passed through to attach them to each other along a central axis and around the perimeter to some other object on which they would have lain flat, as the reverse is undecorated. Representations of the human figure are rare among jades of the ancient period and the pierced, double-sided, slab-shaped pendant is exceptional (14). It shows two pairs of figures standing side by side, each with one arm raised, completing the overall rectangular outline of the piece. From either side of the plaque two figures are seen front view, two back view with the feet joined so that one pair is always inverted. Their robes have incised decoration of double-line hooks and scrolls, with areas of diagonal cross-hatching on the sleeves and backs. Similar chequer-work is found on a small pendant in the shape of two figures in the Hotung Collection, and another example with three figures is in the Winthrop Collection at Harvard University. The small standing figure comes from the third century B.C. and, though still flattened, is carved in the round. (15). The face is engraved with delicate lines delineating the eyes, and the hair is drawn up into an asymmetrical coiffure partially divided in the middle.


12. Arched pendant with grain decoration
Late Spring and Autumn (6th-early 5th century B.C.)
Length 15.6 cms



13. Ensemble of jade pendants with a pair of sword pommels
Early to middle Warring States (5th-4th century B.C.)
Largest plaque: width 13.3 cms
Pommels: diameter 4.2 cms

The next four plates show different type of dragon pendants, of which Mr Hsu's Collection contains a magnificent series. The large pair of pendants are carved in yellowish-green stone into some opaque altered patches, and with traces of cinnabar (16). The elaborate curled and undulating form of the dragons is typical, their bodies entirely covered by sprouting grain pattern and their reflexed heads with short horns. The treatment of the following dragon pendant (17), which is also from the fourth or third century B.C., is very different. The whole of the elongated body is slightly convex on each side with legs in openwork, the jaws open almost engulfing a hook on the back and a very long hooked crest emerging from the head behind the horns, giving a most lively impression of the fabulous animal. The next pendant (18), is of a third type, the body without legs, tapering evenly from the carefully delineated head to the tip of the highly curled tail; and the last pendant (19), of Han date, has a grooved and slightly curved point, the dragon here forming a handle.

In a different vein, the pair of pigs is of a type which has been found in many Western Han (206 B.C.-A.D.9) tombs (20). The earlier examples are carved from blocks of jade with eyes and legs indicated by simple, slanting cuts in the stone. Later the body was more naturalistically carved and the present examples belong to the last phase, retaining the block-like form but achieving a very lifelike representation of the recumbent animal. The pigs are found in the clasped hands of the body and appear to have been made specifically as part of a funerary ritual.


14. Jade ornament with paired human figures
Late Warring States (4th-3rd
century B.C.)
Height 6.7 cms



15. Jade standing human figure
Late Warring States (3rd
century B.C.)
Height 4.9 cms
To conclude the selection of pieces from the Lantien Shanfang Collection is an outstanding Han Jade in the form of a bi disc, (21) with an elaborate openwork border and cresting. The center is typically decorated with and overall relief nipple pattern, enclosed by a frieze incorporating a phoenix and four dragons of different types, interspersed above and below with the characters yan (extended) and nian (years), in seal script, expressing the desire for longevity. The cresting is composed of two further dragons, also in elaborate openwork, one a regular dragon with long horns and open jaws, the other a chilong, characterized by its small almost triangular head and its long spirally grooved tail which extends over the concave rim of the disc. The disc is mounted in a wood stand inscribed on the reverse with a poem composed by the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795), (22) dated to the thirty-fifth year of the reign corresponding to A.D. 1770, and is recorded in a anthology of such inscriptions with the title Yong Han Yu Yan Nian Pei (In Praise of a Han jade with the inscription "extended years").

The collection of jades formed by Mr. Hsu Chou Li in the last six years belongs to a long tradition, stretching back to the Shang Dynasty when seven hundred very varied pieces were buried more than three thousand years ago in the tomb of the Empress Fu Hao. In the eighteenth century A.D., the Qianlong Emperor gave an important position to jades in his vast collection of works of art of all periods. In the early twentieth century extensive excavation of ancient tombs brought to light a wealth of material providing the opportunity for the formation of the early American collections. In the last decade, the availability of fresh material has again made it possible to form a comprehensive collection of ancient jades of the highest quality. Mr. Hsu and his mentor, Mr. Chang Wei Hwa, are to be congratulated on making this a reality in the formation of the Lantien Shanfang Collection.

16. Pair of dragon-shaped
pendants

Late Warring States
(4th-3rd century B.C.)
lengths 16.2 cms and 15.5 cms


17. Dragon-shaped pendant
Late Warring States (4th-3rd century B.C.)
Length 10.6 cms

18. Dragon-shaped pendant
Late Warring States (4th-3rd century B.C.)
Langth 17 cms

19. Pointed jade pendant
Han (2nd century B.C.-2nd
century A.D.)
Length 11.8 cms

20. Pair of jade pigs
Western Han (1st century B.C.)
Lengths 11.4 cms and 11.2 cms
 


21,22. Bi disc with dragon and phoenix decoration, inscribed Yan Nian ("extended years")
Han (2nd century B.C.-2nd century A.D.)
Disc: overall height 23.8 cms
Stand: overall height 30.8 cms


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