Throckmorton Fine Art opens another one-of-a-kind exhibit on an ancient jade-working culture from China. This exhibit focuses entirely on jades of the Hongshan Culture, located in northeastern China between today’s Yellow River Basin and the northern steppe (Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Liaoning, and northern Hebei provinces). The beautiful jade artifacts in this exhibit date to ca. 4000-3000 BCE.
At this time jade was used to the exclusion of any other valued artistic medium to symbolize a chieftain’s power, whether for social, religious, or simply artistic purposes. Jade fashioned into sculptures, plaques, and ornaments may decorate an elite’s headdress, hang suspended around one’s neck, displayed on the chest or waist level, or encircle a wrist or arm. Jade was the preferred medium for signifying wealth and prestige.
Hongshan cultural sites represent settlements that once spread throughout the river valleys of the West Liao and Daling rivers with a central command of the chiefdom located at the cultural center of Niuheliang in Liaoning. Almost all Hongshan jades come from elite burials, most prolific at the raised burial mounds of Niuheliang, but also well represented in burials and site finds in the Chifeng area of Inner Mongolia. The rich number of jade types discovered in elite burials is undoubtedly related in religious orientation to the so-called “Goddess Temple” where large-scale ceramic images of a nude female and “pig-dragon” remain, as identified at the central site of Niuheliang.
Today we marvel at the most unique of Hongshan jade sculptural images, the so-called “pig dragon” or “zhulong??.” The Throckmorton exhibit possesses some of the most spectacular and richest examples of this type. These literal gems, circular exposes on fetal form with an oleaginous feel, are thick-bodied coiled sculptures simulating a “dragon” body ending in a “pig” or “boar” head. Typical of Hongshan craftsmanship is the skill with which the hardstone jade appears malleable, as expressed in the gently curving forms and softly undulating furrows defining eyes and snout.
Other mythic types of Hongshan jades that will be on display include the enigmatic plaque, broad and flat, representing an anthropomorphic image with perforated eyes and vertically aligned “tooth-like fangs.” Mythic attributes are further qualified by the consistent and symmetrical cloud cusps framing the image. This icon is related to two other mythic images in the Throckmorton exhibit, one with a similarly flattened face resembling more the “pig-dragon” type with large ear flaps and rubber lips, yet without framing clouds, and a second, the plaque featuring a profile bird head surrounded by a similar set of four cloud cusps.