Sculpting Nature: Jade from the Collection

The permanent collection of the Crow Collection of Asian Art is comprised of a large number of various types of jade objects from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

This outstanding collection of later-period jades is among the finest of its kind in the United States. Shining a spotlight on this strength of the museum’s collection, the exhibition presents a stunning selection of jade objects that reflect multiple aspects of Chinese culture – from archaic ritual, through the world of the scholars, to the refinements of courtly life. Jade, a precious material found in nature, is fashioned into a diverse variety of objects that reflect Chinese culture, beliefs, and aesthetic tastes.

Jade artifacts can be traced back to the Chinese Neolithic period (8500-1500 BCE). Their specific functions are not known, but they appear to have symbolized the embodiment of natural forces able to affect weather, crops, fecundity and the well-being of people. It was believed that jade was able to enhance the human spirit, and its purity was used to symbolize honor and dignity. Throughout the Chinese dynasties, the ancients used jades in ceremonies and in everyday life, as well as to protect the dead. China’s three major philosophical schools – Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism – each related philosophical concepts to jade.

In the later dynasties, after about the thirteenth century, jade appears mainly in the form of refined vessels, ornaments, and rounded sculptures suited to scholarly taste, but it was also appreciated in the imperial courts. A high point of jade production was during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1796) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when traditional Chinese literature and fine arts also flourished.  Qianlong jades are more decorative than the more sober works of the previous dynasties, reaching summits of elegance and creative invention. Jade artists at this time took motifs from all periods and combined them in graceful sculptural styles that were followed through to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Qing tradition based on Qianlong styles characterize the jade collection of the Crow family.

To this day, Chinese people still invest jade with noble properties and enjoy holding small jade pieces in the hand, believing the material can enhance the human spirit. In the Jade Room, you will find this precious material in various forms used for different purposes, and experience the power it had to fashion culture, life, and beliefs during the period of China’s dynastic empire.

Sculpting Nature:  Jade from the Collection is organized by the Crow Collection of Asian Art