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Chinese Jade and Scroll Paintings from the Dongxi Collection


Chinese Jade and Scroll Paintings from the Dongxi Collection.

Brussels: Kredietbank NV, 1995. (3) + 140 pp, 76 color plates, 7 b/w figs, maps. Stiff covers, color illus, 11 1/4 x 9 inches.

Cataloging an exhibit by a Belgian bank of the superb collection of an anonymous married couple, this book combines up-to-the-minute jade scholarship with magnificent photographs. A brief Introduction summarizes the history of Chinese jades and brings a much needed coherence to the profusion of archaeological findings of the last two decades. An illustrated 2-page discussion of The Technique of Jade Craft reviews how the ancient Chinese worked their wondrous jades, using primitive tools and abrasives barely harder than the jade itself. A 3-page “Chemical Analysis” reviews the mineralogy of jade and the nature of the white alteration often found on tomb jades. (Virtually the same article appeared in the November 1995 Orientations, which also contains an article on the Dongxi collection showing 15 of the catalog plates.) The heart of the book is a catalog of 63 jade and stone carvings and 13 paintings, a “surprising combination” of the glyptic and brush arts.

The carvings-- mostly pre-Han-- are principally of jade, with a few in agate, rock crystal, and soapstone. The jades are presented chronologically in groups and range in age from a Hongshan “hooked clouds” pendant some 5000 years old to Qing dynasty baubles (which is roughly what dongxi means). The groups are: Ritual Objects (further subdivided into Ritual Weapons and Bi and Cong Ceremonial Objects), Pendants and Ornaments, Weapon Settings, Funerary Objects, Scholar’s Articles, and Archaism. Each example was selected with great connoisseurship and is a masterpiece of its type. The photography, by Frans Claes, is exquisite: jades seem to float in air against contrasting backgrounds and careful lighting reveals the surface detail. The plates are large and finely printed. Small pieces are illustrated larger than life. The cover illustration is a closeup of a magnificent Liangzhu cong, one of three congs presented.

The accompanying descriptions, by Nicole de Bisscop, are remarkable for their scholarship and clarity. The very latest archaeological findings, particularly regarding Neolithic jades, are incorporated. Unlike most jade books, the “why” of a particular dating is convincingly explained. This catalog is almost unique in devoting serious attention to archaism, a branch of jade scholarship mostly ignored until recently. True archaistic jades differ from the fakes so prevalent today not only in the quality of their workmanship but in their lack of intent to deceive. A thoughtful bibliography of 104 references-- some as recent as 1994-- rounds out the jade section.

A smaller section cataloging the 20th Century scroll paintings may perhaps be of less interest to Friends of Jade. Again, each example is a masterpiece of its type. They range from the conventional, such as a Pu Xinyu landscape and a Qi Baishi “Shrimps” painting, to quite modern, almost abstract examples by Chen Jialing. This catalog was produced with great craftsmanship and attention to detail. For example, the paintings are printed on high quality uncoated art type paper, different from the coated stock used for the rest of the catalog, producing a softer image for the brushed works.

It is hard to find anything to criticize in this superbly executed catalog of a collection of masterpieces. The price-- $55-- is perhaps on the high side for a soft cover catalog, but in an era of overpriced and overrated jade books, this one is worth the money. Editions are also available in French and Dutch.

-- Eric J. Hoffman
(Published in Friends of Jade Newsletter, Winter 1996 and on Asian Arts - Forum Web site, April 1997)

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