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Nephrite Jade on Plum Blossom Zitan Stand (Ming Dynasty)



Height: 69cm | Width: 20cm | Base width: 59cm | Condition: Mint


During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), ming or nephrite jade was used extensively as a medium for functional items, jewellery, and animal objects. This piece is made of hetian jade, and is classified as seed nephrite, which is thought of as more desirable than mountain nephrite. Chinese hetian jade is extremely precious, because of over-mining that has led to its near depletion. This jade features a beautiful gradient of black, yellow, and brown and has been deliberately left seemingly untouched, in its natural state it was found. At first glance, the jade seems primitively crude, without the intricate details one expects of jade. However, the jade evokes a form of a bird perching on a rock and overlooking its surroundings. To the right, the jade tips to form a sharp beak and an outline of the bird’s breast follow thereafter. Perhaps it was due to its resemblance to a bird that the sculptor chose to leave it as such. Although it is impossible to pinpoint what species of bird it is due to the rudimentary shape, the choice of a plum blossom zitan carving as its stand offers us a hint to the artist’s intention of representing a magpie. The flowering plum mei hua is identified by the small four to five petals. Due to the plum being the first to bloom in late winter or early spring (even ahead of the highly popular cherry blossoms), it represents the end of winter and start of spring, and in its extension perseverance and hope.

Even today, the plum blossom features heavily in Chinese culture to mark the beginning of spring, and is often associated with the Chinese New Year. In Chinese culture, the magpie is a bird of good omen that brings good fortune. Coupled with plum blossom, the depiction of these two aspects of nature is an “arrival of happiness”. It is also commonly believed that if a magpie builds its nest near a home, the entire household enjoys good luck. Thus, although the jade is left in its natural state without grinding, the pairing with a stand made of zitan elevates its status and reinforces the magpie and plum blossom symbolism. Zitan is the wood used for royal furniture and is very valuable, due to the long amount of time it takes for the tree to reach maturity. The artist has hence made a wise decision in leaving the jade untouched, allowing its natural silhouette to shine through. By adding the plum blossom, it allows the viewer to draw a reference to the magpie’s symbolism, and hence adds meaningful depth. This piece is therefore not only beautiful, but beholds an underlying message of joy and happiness that brings good fortune to its owner.


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