The Fascinating Jade Charm

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Throughout ancient Chinese history, jade was seen as a sacred material, its significance encompassed the promulgation of civilization and social hierarchies. Therefore, most of the motifs featured on jade emphasize their symbolic significance and thus generally had auspicious connotations. From the implied wish for the prosperity of male offspring to the symbol of longevity, here are just a few examples of the auspicious Chinese emblems with vivid, charming depictions. All of these jade pieces come from the superb collection of the Muwen Tang. Click ahead.

The Muwen Tang Collection of Chinese Jades

01 Dec | Hong Kong

The Fascinating Jade Charm

  • An Exceptional White Jade 'Boy and Cat' Group, Qing dynasty, 18th Century. Estimate 200,000 – 300,000 HKD.
    The theme of boys playing with animals represents a traditional motif developed over a thousand years and favored on account of its implied wish for the prosperity of male offspring. In this piece , the boy is depicted with a butterfly and a cat, both symbolic of longevity. The two form the pun maodie (‘May you live into your seventies to nineties’).

  • A Rare Pale Celadon and Russet Jade ‘Twins and Lotus’ Pendant, Song–Ming Dynasty. Estimate 60,000 – 80,000 HKD.
    This motif is steeped in auspicious symbolism, with the boy (子zi) and lotus (蓮lian) creating the rebus lian sheng gui zi, which expresses the wish of giving birth to prestigious sons constantly. In the catalogue to the exhibition Chinese Jades from Han to Ch'ing, James C.Y. Watt notes that during the Qixi festival, 'the streets of the city, especially in the capitals would be filled with playing children dressed in waistcoats and holding a lotus leaf or plant. They were as the records tell us, imitating the mo-hou-lo, the cult object of the festival.’

  • A Superb Pale Celadon Jade ‘Boy and Hobby Horse’ Carving Qing Dynasty, 18th Century. Estimate 100,000 – 150,000 HKD.
    Images of boys playing with a hobby horse comprise part of the popular ‘boys at play’ and ‘Hundred Boys’ subjects that emerged from the Song dynasty. This theme is symbolic of the Confucian ideal for the education and advancement of many sons, a wish further emphasised by the lotus he carries which represents ‘May you continuously give birth to distinguished sons’. As the boy is depicted riding a hobby horse, this conveys the wish for it to come immediately or soon (mashang) which is a pun for ‘to be on top of a horse’.

  • A Pale Celadon Jade ‘Deer and Lingzhi’ Carving Early Qing dynasty. Estimate 50,000 – 70,000 HKD.
    Deer are among the most frequently seen animals on charms. The word for deer (鹿 lu) is a homophone for the word status (祿lu) , symbolizing high office. Carved from a luminous pale celadon stone, the present piece is notable for its fullness of form and sense of vitality, as though the deer is ready to leap up at any moment.

  • A White and Russet Jade ‘Peach’ Box and Cover, Qing dynasty, 18th–19th Century. Estimate 30,000 – 50,000 HKD.
    The top cover of the Jade box was skillfully worked in the form of a large peach, which is one of the most common motifs in Chinese art as a symbol of immortality.

  • A Superbly Carved White Jade 'Three Rams' Group, Qing dynasty, 18th Century. Estimate 150,000 – 200,000 HKD.
    Inspired by the blessing saying ‘Three rams bringing bliss,’ the translucent white stone was skillfully worked in the form of a recumbent ram with its head turned backwards, finely rendered with a pair of striated curved horns, the haunches decorated with a yin-yang motif, further portrayed flanked by two smaller rams nuzzling against it endearingly.

  • A Finely Carved and Reticulated Russet Jade 'Deer and Lingzhi' Finial, Song dynasty. Estimate 30,000 – 50,000 HKD.
    According to an ancient Chinese myth, the deer is the only creature that knows where to find the fungus of immortality (lingzhi). Well rendered as two deer standing before dense foliage and two lingzhi blooms, the present work of art is intended to convey the wish of longevity.

  • A White Jade ‘Double Cats and Butterfly’ Group, Qing dynasty, 18th Century. Estimate 60,000 – 80,000 HKD.
    The Chinese word for 'cat' (mao) is homophonous with the word for 'age eighty to ninety' and the butterfly (die) for 'age seventy to eighty'; thus these are symbolic of longevity. Such a piece would have been presented as a birthday gift. During the Qing dynasty, such small jade pebbles carved with the auspicious design of birds and butterflies were popular.

  • A White Jade ‘Gourd and Bat’ Pendant, Qing dynasty, 18th – 19th Century. Estimate 30,000 – 50,000 HKD.
    Objects decorated with bats (蝠fu) can be a visual pun for good fortune (福fu) because of the homophone. The gourd was often used as a charm to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. In the present work , the lustrous white stone worked well as gourds borne on meandering stems issuing leaves of varying sizes, one side further rendered with a bat with outstretched wings.

  • A White Jade 'Quail' 'Ruyi' Plaque, Qing Dynasty, 18th – 19th Century. Estimate 20,000 – 30,000 HKD.
    Ruyi traditionally serves as a ceremonial sceptre symbolizing power and good future. In Asian art, Ruyi can be made in variety of valuable materials. A Ruyi-shaped jade plaques of this type , often decorated with auspicious motifs, was inlaid into wood and other materials to form the heads of ruyi-sceptres. Decorated with quails and millet, the present plaque symbolises the wish suisui ping’an (‘May you have peace year after year’).

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