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Longevity with Deer, China, twentieth century, Jadeite, 12 x 11 x 4 inches. Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond, Gift of Dr. Paul B. and Barbar Downing, R1991.03.01. Photograph by Katherine Wetzel.
Nov 13, 2001
throughMar 01, 2002

Stones of Heaven: Jades from the Permanent Collection

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The Superior Man competes in virtue with jade.
- from The Book of Rites by Li Chi, Chou Dynasty (1122-255 B.C.E.)

On November 13, 2001 the Lora Robins Gallery at the University of Richmond celebrates the opening of Stones of Heaven: Jades from the Permanent Collection. This exhibition displays many thematic trends that have appeared in jade artworks throughout history and features animal carvings, vessels, and boulder carvings. Highlights include a jade incense burner that is over three feet tall and a large figure of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The exhibition was co-curated by Anna Shaw (AW'02) University of Richmond art history major, and N. Elizabeth Schlatter, Assistant Director, University of Richmond Museums.

Jade has primarily been found in China, Central America, and Maori Polynesia. In earlier times, this hard stone was made into weaponry and used for burial practices and other rituals. More recently, jade carvings have served decorative purposes, such as vases, sculpture, and jewelry.

Jade is the common name for two different minerals with a similar appearance: jadeite and nephrite. Since antiquity, the Chinese carved with locally found nephrite, coined the "stone of heaven." In 1750, Burma (known today as Myanmar) began formally exporting jadeite to China, where the mineral was termed the "stone of Burma." It was not until 1863 that a French scientist discovered that jade comes in these two distinct mineral forms, although both continue to be known today as jade.

Pure jade is white, and it is the presence of other minerals and elements, such as iron, manganese, and chromium, that creates and intensifies the stone's color. Nephrite boasts all variations of green tones as well as brown and yellow hues, while jadeite can occur as green, blue, lavender, pink, and even orange.

Stones of Heaven features themes based on function, mythological associations, and the properties of the stone itself to show the practical and aesthetic meanings of jade carving. Burners, jars, and other vessels exemplify the practical yet decorative applications of jade, while fantastic beasts, dramatic depictions of legends, and elaborate ornamentation reveal the innate beauty of the stone.

Artists also try to merge the visual properties of the stone with the ritualistic or aesthetic purpose of the final product. For instance, the artist preserved the natural rind of the stone in the composition of the Longevity boulder carving in the exhibition to create a more believable cave-like environment. Traditional designs appear throughout the history of jade carving, and it is not necessarily the age of the stone but its quality and the skill of the artist that determines its aesthetic value as a work of art.