Archaic Chinese Jades, Mr. and Mrs. Ivan B. Hart Collection

Archaic Chinese Jades, Mr. and Mrs. Ivan B. Hart Collection

Archaic Chinese Jades, Mr. and Mrs. Ivan B. Hart Collection

Archaic Chinese Jades, Mr. and Mrs. Ivan B. Hart Collection

Excerpt

Jade is a rare, precious, extremely hard stone with inherent beauty of color and texture. An early Chinese reaction to jade is revealed in an inscription on a bronze vessel that was made at some time between about 770 and 250 B.C., when Chinese writing was much more pictorial than it now is. A word meaning "to play with, to be fond of" occurs in the inscription and is written with a graph consisting of two hands surmounted by the character that means "jade."1 This delight in the tactile quality of jade has been a persistent element in appreciating it as a material.

Jade is not native to China but it is found in regions immediately to the west, in the direction of Central Asia. For millennia the various peoples who have inhabited that area have brought jade across the caravan routes into China. The word "jade" is not a precise mineralogical label, nor is the Chinese word yü which it translates. Both are applied to diverse minerals, especially to nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite is a calcium-magnesium silicate; jadeite is a sodium-aluminum silicate with a crystalline structure of small granules instead of the fibrous structure of nephrite. Historically, nephrite has been known and worked in China since the neolithic age in the second or third millennium B.C., while jadeite did not come into use there until the eighteenth century A.D.

The hardness of jade and the circumstance that it was obtainable only in small stones or blocks has affected the shapes into which it has been fashioned and the manner in which the surface has been ornamented. Harder than any metal, it can only be worked by patient abrasion with watery suspensions of the few substances harder than itself, as, for example, with quartz sand. Nevertheless, the application of saws and drills has been part of the jade craftsman's technique throughout the centuries. A thorough study of these methods was published in 1950 by S. Howard Hansford in his book Chinese Jade Carving. Completely familiar with the practices of the modern jade carvers whom he knew in Peking in the . . .

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