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To Adorn the Body, Venerate the Ancestors, and Feast Friends from Afar: Jades and Bronzes of Ancient China

April 9, 2013
Nichols Board of Trustees Suite
$20/$30 lecture, $50/$60 lunch and lecture

Unlike other civilizations of the ancient world, the early Chinese showed little interest in figural sculpture or precious metals. Instead, they created two remarkable traditions—jade carving and bronze  casting—both of which reached aesthetic heights unsurpassed by other cultures. From as early as 4000 B.C., jade—a stone harder than steel—was fashioned into strange ritual objects as well as elegant personal ornaments that were buried in tombs in close proximity to the deceased. From the era of Confucius (551–479 B.C.), and perhaps much earlier, jade was imputed with moral significance: its hardness, translucency, and unctuous surfaces were likened to the moral qualities of a gentleman.

With the rise of bronze production sometime after 2000 B.C., bronze vessels were cast in an astonishing range of forms for rituals venerating the spirits of the departed. These vessels were embellished with enigmatic motifs and often inscribed with texts extolling their importance. Although this practice eventually declined by the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220), the use of fine vessels for feasting and display would continue throughout China’s history. This lecture by Colin C. Mackenzie, senior curator of early Chinese art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, explores the evolution of these two traditions and shows how archaeological discoveries in China over the past half-century have thrown new light on jades and bronzes in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Asian Art Council members: $20 lecture, $50 lunch and lecture
Nonmembers: $30 lecture, $60 lunch and lecture

For more information, contact Susan Packard at (312) 443-7282.

Presented as part of the Encounters with Asia series by the Asian Art Council

Affiliate Group: 

Pendant in Form of an Archer’s Ring, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9). China. Edward and Louise B. Sonnenschein Collection.