Chinese Jades at Amgueddfa Cymru

Penelope Hines (Temporary Curator of Applied Art)

Jade is a tough translucent material that can be made into ornaments, ceremonial weapons and ritual objects. For more than 7 millennia Jade has had a high cultural significance in China and throughout history craftsman used innovative design, technical skills to produce a great variety of objects from diverse categories in jade.

The Material

The Chinese term for jade "Yu" can be used to reference to any stone of beauty or value; such as agate or turquoise, which possess the five following values:

  1. Smooth texture
  2. Hardness
  3. Dense structure
  4. Translucency
  5. Variant hues

However when we discuss the term "Jade" (particularly in a western museum) we are specifically discussing either of two different minerals; nephrite and jadeite. The mineral jadeite arrived relatively late to china (around the end of the 18th century) therefore the majority of what is considered to be a Chinese jade is nephrite.

Jades of Amgueddfa Cymru

All animals carved during the Ming and Qing dynasty came with auspicious meanings and good wishes directed to the viewer. The majority of the collection at National Museum Cardiff are such objects.

Duck (NMW A 50761)
Duck (NMW A 50761)

This duck looks as if it is swimming. The lotus on its back and in its back are to bring the owner good fortune. Combination of the simple forms and fine details makes it typical of the late Ming period.

Buffalo (NMW A 50764)
Buffalo (NMW A 50764)

Buffalo were used in houses to repress evil spirits. However due to it role pulling a plough it has also become a symbol of spring and agriculture. Those lying with their head tuned could indicate the world being at peace.

Swan / Goose (NMW A 50767)
Swan / Goose (NMW A 50767)

We are unsure whether this is a swan or a goose, in ancient Chinese culture the swan was the heavenly version of a goose, though both are sacred animals.

Lion (NMW A 50787)
Lion (NMW A 50787)

Lions aren’t native to china but became known through the spread of Buddhism. Usually in jade they are represented in the manner of a dog. Though more commonly they are seen in porcelain and at rest. This is a good example of jade as a material being used as a display of wealth.

Water Dropper (NMW A 50777)
Water Dropper (NMW A 50777)

The water dropper was used to support the treasures of the studio such as the brush, ink, paper and ink stone. These pieces were used as early as the 13th century however were for more widely known during the Ming and Qing period.

The collection of Chinese jade in Europe was scarce before the 19th century. Really it seems to have started after the exhibition of jades at the crystal palaces great exhibition.

The first pieces to enter the collection were for the turner house collection presumably acquired by the galleries 1st patron John Pike Thomas in the 1800’s. Primarily though, they come from the David Bertram Levinson bequest in 1967. Little is known about the provenance of the jade but it’s likely they are all from the 1800s and 1900's.

Article written up from talk given on Chinese Jades, 15th May 2015.



Lin, J C S. The Immortal Stone: Chinese Jades from the Neolithic Period to the Twentieth Century. The Fitzwilliam Museum, (Scala Publishers, 2009).

Wilson, M. Chinese Jades, (V&A Publications, 2004).

Articles/ Chapters

Nichol, D. 2010. Chinese Jade from the National Museum of Wales Collection. National Museum of Wales Geological Series No 2x, 000pp.


Amgueddfa Cymru Art Collection Online

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