Saturday, September 13, 2008

Jade Carvings

Jade carvings are among the oldest known art forms in the world. Jade has been mined in China for over 8,000 years with evidence of its ceremonial value dating nearly as far back as human history itself. Many Chinese connoisseurs consider jade to be of a value higher than gold or diamond. It’s green, cool to the touch and extremely hard, but what makes jade such a uniquely Asian fascination?

The traditions and high regard of jade and jade carving is rooted in the culture of China itself. Jade’s rarity and uniqueness lends itself to ideas of symbolic perfection and even magic. All stone in China embodies the idea of hardness representing reliability and jade is an exceptionally hard stone, harder than steel. Though its appearance can be almost glass like to the modern eye it is difficult to break or scratch. Jade is non-crystalline with interlocking fibers, making it one of the strongest natural minerals in the world. Ancient peoples discovered the stone’s exceptional strength and used if for both tools and weaponry. Perhaps an early Emperor’s secret to solidifying power was the potently lethal strength of jade blades, spear tips or even an invincible jade armor.

Jade’s hardness is part of the mystery and mastery of jade carvings. There is an element of the Taoist yin and yang in the hardness of the stone and the fluidity of the carved design. Jade is rarely carved with hard edges, instead having a fine polished feel of something that looks gentle and soft. Fish in water, dragons in clouds, running horses, laughing Buddhas… these are all common jade carvings with distinctly flowing elements. It’s harder than marble or steel and yet looks like liquid. It embodies the very essence of Taoist ideals. Neither gold nor diamonds can achieve quite the same balance of elements and thus do not appeal quite as strongly to a culture steeped in Taoist traditions.

Tributes to China’s Emperors were preferred rendered in jade, which was then carved by skilled artisans into everything from elaborate statues to belt buckles. In modern China carved jade is seen as a highly respectful and gracious gift evoking imperial traditions.

China’s emperors, like many ancient rulers, were thought (or self aggrandized) to be descendants of heaven and they communicated to their mythical over lords through a jade disk. Kings were buried in jade suits that were thought to preserve them in their glorious tombs. Ancient Taoist devised secret potions of longevity and immortality from a variety of sources (some we know today to be highly toxic) and always included jade among the ingredients.

In Chinese mythology the heist deity is the Jade Emperor, ruler of heaven and every thing beneath it. Some creation myths credit the Jade Emperor with fashioning humanity out of clay. On Chinese New Year the masses clean and tidy before the New Year arrives. It’s a nice tradition that might be rooted in myths about the Jade Emperor passing judgment on humanity each year and if they don’t clean up their act he’ll pull the plug on the whole existence party.

Perhaps jade’s most potent imagery in China is its close linguistic ties to sexuality. Many colloquial terms for organs and acts incorporate the word for jade. At the same time jade is a symbol for purity and is used in metaphors for both youth and beauty.

Reorient offers a classic selection of authentic jade carvings. Each is an entirely hand worked piece of Asian art. Typically with jade carvings the shape and inconsistencies of the individual stones determine both the subject and execution of the design. Odd shapes are transformed into mythical dragons, Fu Dogs or Buddhist symbols. The natural grains and markings in the jade are incorporated into the overall carving. For example a vein or fissure may become part of a horse’s mane, adding an illusion of wind and flow.

All the carvings in our current jade collection are vintage pieces carved in China during the end of the Cultural Revolution. Most include a hand crafted wooden stand for display.

Please browse our selection and feel free to contact us with any questions on individual pieces.