Henan Museum
A Brilliant Match of Gold and Jade
An Exhibition of Treasures of Gold and Jade Produced with Unique Techniques from the Nine Provinces along the Yellow River
Source: Henan Museum
Edit: Zrr acf
Time: 2022-01-11 10:21:01

The present exhibition is the first special exhibition which was jointly planed and launched since the founding of the “Yellow River Valley Museum Union” in 2019. Featuring nearly 300 rare artifacts of gold and jade produced with unique techniques from the collections of 23 museums scattered across the 9 provinces of the Yellow River valley, the exhibits cover a time span of nearly 4,000 years, from the Xia dynasty through the Qing dynasty.


The jade symbolize the holiness and the eternal life in the Chinese civilization, which reflects the traditional Chinese humanistic spirit and aesthetic taste. In the Shang and Zhou period (ca. 1600-221 BCE), copper was believed to be “gold” or “auspicious gold”; as the embodiment of the rituals of the dynasties of the Central Planes, bronzes were symbolization of power and hierarchy. From the Qin onward, gold was increasingly used in making of the high grade products due to its symbolization of rarity, value, and eternalness.
As the representation of the precious materials, the artwork of gold and jade produced with unique techniques, not only demonstrate the integration of precious materials, but also represent the ingenuity and wisdom of the ancient Chinese artisans, exhibit the casting techniques of different ages which were gradually matured and even got perfect, in addition to that, they are also the evidence of the cultural exchange between the West and the East in ancient China.

Part 1 Glittering Gold and Jade—— Jade Inlay Craft

The conjoining of gold and jade makes the coupling of the shining of gold and copper and the glittering of the jade brilliant, and integrates the sacredness and ceremoniousness of two parts.
In the early days after the regimes were established, the nephrite, in a broad sense, represented by turquoise, played an important role as a symbol of power thanks to its wide range of religious sacredness and social significance. From the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC-221 BC) onward, the sacredness of turquoise has gradually died out. The genuine jade which mostly represented by Khotan jade and the precious stones conjoined with gold. The aesthetic tastes of the ancients have undergone a transformation from the beauty of sacredness and luxury to the beauty of extravagance and brilliance.

Bronze plaque ornamented with turquoise beast mask-- excavated from Erlitou,collected by Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital

Divine beast--excavated from No. 9 tomb at Xujialing, Xichuan, collected by Henan Museum

Gold buckle with tiger pattern inlaid with gems-- excavated from the tomb of Xiongnu at Alu Chaideng, Hangjin Banner, Ordos,  collected by Inner Mongolia Museum

Part 2 Wrapped in the foils of gold or silver

Gold and silver wrapping and appliqueing techniques
The beauty of wrapping in gold foils or inlaid gold, makes the objects have the appearance of gold and silver.
In the early dynastic China, there was the difference between the North and the South with inlaid gold articles. Bronzes were traditionally the indicators of the hierarchy in the North, while gold products were extremely prized in the South. From the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC-256 BC) onward, the North and the South gradually have tended to be consistent. Under the influence of the nobles of the nomadic tribes from the steppes of the Central Asia, the embellishments of gold began to prevail in the Northern China and gradually integrated into the sculptural arts of the Central Plains.

Bronze Human Head with Gold Mask-- excavated from Sanxingdui Site of Guanghan,  collected by Sanxingdui Museum

Part 3 Brilliance of Filigree and Inlay

Craftsmanship of Inlaying Copper, Gold, and Silver
In the early stage, the aesthetics in decorative patterns focused on the indoctrination, which made people feel the greatness of divine power and the majesty of royal power. After the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, the aesthetics in decorative patterns tended to be secular, craftsmanship and skills were valued. In addition, after the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, the appearance of iron tools spurred the development of the techniques of inlay on bronzes, which resulted in the boom of craftsmanship of copper, gold and silver inlaying.
The inlay technology evolved into grinding inlaying from casting inlaying, the raw materials evolved from copper to precious metals, such as gold and silver. With successive technical breakthroughs, the artisans created the splendid products.

Part 4 Dazzling Gold: Gilded Artifacts

Gilding is a technique of an external metal plating technology, which is characterized by taking advantage of the property of metals which feature strong corrosion resistance, such as gold and silver, to gild on the surface of the bronzes, which not only protects the bronzes, but also forms a brilliant visual effect.
After the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period (770 BC-221 BC), the bronze ritual utensils gradually lost favor of the people. The gold wares gradually became popular because of its preciousness and in line with people's pursuit of luxury in the deployment of utensils. Gliding gold or silver increasingly prevailed thereafter.

Gilt Bronze Lacquer Zun Vessel Inlaid with Silver---excavated from the Han Dynasty tomb at Leitai, Wuwei of Gansu, collected by Gansu Provincial Museum

Part 5 World of Extravagance: Crafts of Goldware and Jadeware from the Third Century Onwards

During the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties (220-589 AD), large-scale cultural exchanges and ethnic fusion brought about the coexistence of various styles of the productions of gold and silver. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), based on the influence of foreign gold and silverware from Byzantium, Persia, Sogdiana and other foreign countries, with assimilation and amalgamation, Tang artisans made innovations, witnessing the peak period in the development history of gold and silverware in ancient China, and laying the foundation for the production of gold and silverware for the later generations.
During this period, gold and silver works replaced the position of bronzes in high-end productions, so the craftsmanship is mainly embodied in gold and silverware embedded with gems, gilt silver works and various fine filigrees.

Gold Hairpin Embedded with Turquoise----excavated from the Tang tomb at Xiaodian of Baofeng, collected by Pingdingshan Museum

Gilt Jade Bracelet Embedded with Gems----excavated from Hejiacun village,  collected by Shaanxi Museum

Concluding remarks

The ancient craftsmen were obsessed with art and improvement of skills. The exquisite craftsmanship has not been lost in the dust of history over time. Generations of craftsmen have persistently stuck to the crafting spirit of excellence which is characterized by pursuing to perfection constantly and making bold innovation. The constantly upgrading the techniques resulted in the prosperous development of ancient Chinese traditional craftsmanship without end.
Today, with the rapid development of new technologies, a group of craftsmen are still adhering to the traditional craftsmanship and make innovations in the process of inheritance, and integrating traditional skills with modern technologies, making the old and new shine together. By exploring the developmental traces of ancient Chinese craftsmanship, we hope that the viewers can perceive the Chinese aesthetics and experience the wisdom embodied in traditional Chinese creations.