SPIRIT AND SOUL – a rare collection of late Neolithic Hongshan Jades 4700 – 2500 BCE at Throckmorton Fine Art in New York

NEW YORK – The 2019 Asia show at Throckmorton Fine Art in New York – titled “Spirit and Soul – Hongshan Jades 4700-2500 BCE” (www.throckmorton-nyc.com) features fifty rare jade carvings from the Hongshan societies of northeastern China, Spencer Throckmorton has announced.
On view from February 28 through March 24, this important collection of late Neolithic small jade objects dates as far back as 4700 BCE and may be the earliest representations of animal and human figures revealed in 1908 through the research of the noted Japanese scholar, Ryuzo Torii. Extensive excavations were carried out in 1935 by two other Japanese archeologists.

In his Preface to the “Spirit and Soul” catalog Spencer Throckmorton says, “These small-scaled sculptures are sophisticated, well-carved and finely polished, cut from luminous stones that have a tactile appeal. Though the carvings are abstract they seem to allude to the shamanistic quality of animals. Most common are “pig dragons,” but there are also representations of birds, fish and cicada. Included too are highly-stylized discs, hair ornaments and pendants. At least some of the carvings have been worn as amulets.”
While Hongshan jades are rare, they are amply represented in Chinese collections. However, the most extensive collections are probably in Japan, where Hongshan jades have been highly prized since the 1930s.
Throckmorton goes on to say, “Each of the jade carvings included in this exhibit has been thoroughly examined by one of the world’s foremost authorities on Chinse jades, Gu Fang, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Archeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He has prepared a certificate for each jade exhibited. The carvings were also examined at the facilities of Orenda Laboratory. These prized jades were collected over a twenty-year period from collections in Hong Kong and the United States. Many are from the collection of John Maxwell of Virginia, an early connoisseur of Chinese jade. The most impressive and important jade piece, which adorns the cover of the catalog, was purchased years ago by a professor in San Diego when it was offered to him as a pre-Columbian artifact. This exhibit of Hongshan jades is unlikely ever to be repeated – the show deserves to be widely viewed.”
In Gu Fang’s catalog text we learn that the Hongshan culture was centered in the Liaohe River Valley in Northeast China. It was a Neolithic culture dating to around 4700 – 2500 BCE and roughly coincides with the Yangshao Culture in the Central Plains.
The Hongshan Culture reached to the southeast of Inner Mongolia, the west of Liaoning, and the north of Hebei. In additional to temples and goddess statues the Hongshan Culture is known for large amounts of carved jades. Except for some “gathered” ones which do not have clear provinces, most Hongshan jade has been unearthed from mid- and small-sized tombs, with the number of jades varying from three to nine. Using jades as grave goods and sacrificial offerings were important components of the ideology of Hongshan Culture, as well as a common temporal characteristic of Chinese cultures in the transitional stage from the Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age.
The localities yielding jades are not only concentrated in the valleys of Laoha and Daling Rivers, but also in Linxi County, Bairin Right Banner and Ar Horqin Banner to the north of Shira Muren River, also at Sanxingtala in Ongniud Banner, Hutougou to Fuxin Country, Sanguanduanzu in Kingyuan County, Niuheliang in Jianping County and Dongsganzui in Harqin Left Wing Country. Hongshan Culture jades are mainly locally produced Xiuyan Jade with small amounts of grey jade, chalcedony, agate and jet.
By shapes and motifs Hongshan Culture jade can be classified into animal shaped jades and ornaments in other shapes. Since they were used for wearing and hanging almost all the of Hongshan jades have holes drilled from one side so the diameters of a hole on the two sides is not the same and the cross-section is like a trapezoid, called “horse hoof hole.” Perhaps for the intention of reducing the difficulty of drilling holes, some holes are drilled bilaterally and the dimeters on both surfaces are large but that in the middle are small, which is called a “bee-waist hole.” Some bilaterally drilled holes are not accurately met and there are “steps” on the inner wall of the hole. These two drilling methods continue to be used in the Shang and Zhou Dynasties.
The most outstanding characteristics of the Jades of Hongshan Culture are emphasizing the likeness in spirit and the symmetry; the skillful strokes and superb grinding and polishing techniques vividly capture animals in a plain and animated way.
The jades of the Hongshan Culture represent the mature period of primitive jade art which originated from that of the Xinglong Wa Culture, found in the same region but from an earlier period. The hooked-cloud-shaped ornament and pig-dragon-shaped ornament have similar counterparts in Fu Hao’s Tomb located in Yinxu in Anyang, Henan, suggesting that the jade art of the Shang Dynasty might have originated from that of the Hongshan or at least been influenced by it.
Some of the jades of the Hongshan Culture may have religious meaning tied to totem worship. Since the early Neolithic Age, the funeral custom of burying pig skulls or limbs in the tombs was popular in Hongshan regions. Pigs were the symbol of wealth, as well as the objects of totem worship, explaining the existence of large amounts of pig-dragon-shaped ornaments in the Hongshan jades. It might even be the figure of the deity worshipped by the Hongshan people.
Among the Hongshan jades the C-shaped jade dragon unearthed at Sanxingtala Village in Ongniud Banner, Inner Mongolia could be regarded as the most representative. It is the earliest and best-preserved dragon figure found so far in China. The whole dragon is carved out of a piece of dark green nephrite. The head is raised and the tail is coiled, the mouth is protruding, the nose is flat and the shuttle-shaped eyes are goggling; its head is carved in the shape of a pig head with upturning manes behind the head and on the back. A hole is drilled into the back, just at the center of gravity. It looks stern and vivid, like an alert serpent. The large size and the superb carving technique of this jade dragon are rarely seen among the jades of the same age. It might be the diety figure worshipped by the Hongshan, the symbol of a patron saint of a clan or tribe or a religious instrument of the priests to pray for rain.
The jade art of the Hongshan Culture, with its fine materials, elaborate craftsmanship, natural designs, and diversified types played an important role in the origin of Chinese Civilization. Jade carvings suggest the emergence of a unified theocracy, and, and suggest that the society had rather powerful manager groups, which, in turn, laid the firm foundation for the development of eight thousand years of Chinese civilization.

Demonstrating the gallery’s commitment to connoisseurship, Throckmorton has achieved sales to such major museums as The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Getty and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as well as The Reina Sofia in Madrid. Portions of collections the gallery was instrumental in forming have been donated to The Louvre. The gallery loans examples on a regular basis to such significant institutions as The London National Gallery.

In addition to showcasing Chinese jades and Asian art, Throckmorton specializes in pre-Columbian art and vintage and contemporary Latin American photography. The gallery participates in internationally acclaimed fairs, including more than 30 years exhibiting at the prestigious Winter Antiques Show in New York; the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) Photography Show each April, and it stages important annual exhibitions in the spring during Asia Week. It has also published more than a dozen catalogs on these subjects.

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