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Art & Splendor in the Ming Dynasty: The Rise of the Jade Artisan

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

By Heather Herbstritt



In 1368 A.D. the young soldier, Zhu Yuanzhang, soon to become Emperor, successfully invaded Beijing, ending decades of Yuan Mongolian rule with the establishment of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Spanning over 200 years, the dynasty was a period of artistic and cultural development centering around the rebirth of Chinese traditions in the wake of Mongolian and Manchu rulers. This inward focus on the revival of scholar-artists, court-defined styles, and painting, harkening back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), led to an era of artistic splendor.

Often commended for their porcelain, Ming dynasty artisans were also celebrated for their masterful jadewares. Although a long celebrated material in Chinese culture, the dawn of the Ming dynasty marked an important social shift for jade craftsmen. In previous centuries, jade carvers experienced a relatively low social status, characterized by lower commission rates and often unsigned carvings. However, new developments in the court-art structure, notably artisans being granted greater artistic freedom, elevated the social status of these craftsmen. The new esteem associated with the position incentivized jade artisans, contributing to the exponential production of carvings in Ming dynasty China. In tandem with this was the appearance of individual jade carvers’ signatures and a drastic change in the subjects of jade carvings.

The inward focus of the Ming dynasty directed artisans' eyes to themes of everyday people and life. While primarily serving courtly patrons, the dynasty’s later economic growth created a new market for jade collecting, further driving artistic production and development. Resulting from this increased demand, the splendor of Ming jadewares grew immensely. The techniques were further refined and the types of carved objects expanded: dishes and cups, scholarly items, jewelry, and small figurines being popular examples.

Illustrating the diversity and quality of Ming jades are over 15 lots to be offered in Oakridge’s auction Chinese Jade & Ceramics - No Reserve to be held June 2, 2023. Comprising jade bi, beast-form carvings, and plaques the sale offers a collector the opportunity to expand their collection of finer jades. To a collector of courtly or jewelry arts, the auction features an array of carved jade necklaces; splendorous in both execution and condition.

 

Works Cited


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Ming dynasty." Encyclopedia Britannica, April 8, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ming-dynasty-Chinese-history.


Department of Asian Art. “Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ming/hd_ming.htm (October 2002).


Hearn, Maxwell. Ancient Chinese Art: The Ernest Erickson Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.


Lawton, Thomas, Shen Fu, Glenn D. Lowry, Ann Yonemura, Milo C. Beach. “Jade” in Asian Art in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery The Inaugural Gift. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1987.


Yu, Ming. Chinese Jade. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.


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