Subject:A burial Han Jade Vase? Very unlikely, IMHO
Posted By: Super Fri, Sep 07, 2018
Please understand that it is not my intention to disrespect Russ's story about his grandfather-in-law's belief that this "jade vase" was a Han dynasty burial jade piece since is extremely difficult to almost impossible to truly appraise any jade carvings based on a few low-resolution pictures.
However, based on what were posted in this or the other message, I am having strong difficulty in believing that this can be an archaic jade piece, probably not even an antique one.
My reasoning are as follow:
(1) Difficulty in locating and “carving” large jade carvings in ancient China - It was extremely difficult if not impossible to find too many large jade carvings that are either archaic (at least 1000 years old or at least Han dynasty or older) or Neolithic due to the difficulty in locating such large sized jade material, then having the right tools to remove them (no metal tools or only bronze tools were available), then be able to carve them with manual carving tools. But most difficult of all, the polishing of such large jade carvings would take years to polish. Even during the Qing dynasty, before polishing with high-hardness grit was invented (i.e. using diamond or corundum), it would take a year or longer to carve small jade carvings. Can one imagine how much labor it would take to carve this “jade vase” during Han dynasty?
Another reason for one not seeing a lot of large jade carvings in ancient China is because during most of the Chinese dynasties, Hetian jade material were transported from Hetian (or Hotan, Xianjiang) and there were always revolts there and Xianjiang was not a part of China till the Qing Exmperor Qianlong had demolished the rebels. Also, there were a lot of attacks made at China by foreign tribes, especially during the Song dynasty where import of quality jade material was in shortage due to wars. Also, jadeite became a jade material in the middle Qing dynasty and due to Qianlong’s love for jade, that is why during the Qianlong era, the quality of jade carvings had blossomed.
Also, one simply do not see a lot of jade bowls or jade vases or any large jade carvings that need to be hollowed out were being made in ancient China.
First on all, to make jade bowls, jade tea pots, jade vases would waste a lot of jade material and even with today's modern tools, it would not be easy to hollow out the inside of these jade pieces. That is why a pair of regular sized Hetian jade bowls made during the Qing Emperor Qianglong era, just material alone would cost 5,000 teals of silver. At today's silver spot of US$ 14.23 a troy oz. (31.10 g), each tael (37.79 g) of silver will be worth about US$17.30. Therefore material alone for this pair of Hetian jade bowls would be around US$ 86,500, not including labor cost for making them.
It is for these reasons, it is very hard to find any jade bowls that were made of nephrite jade, more difficult if they were made of white Hetian nephrite jade. Most of the “jade” bowls or tea pot or tea cups today were not made of nephrite.
(2) Material – if one would take a look at the material used in making archaic or antique Chinese jade carvings, one would see that almost the majority of them would be made of quality Hetian nephrite jades (or equivalent), either mutton-fat, white, milky white, celaon or yellowish-white or they were made of bi-yu (dark green Hetian or Xianjiang dark green nephrite jade). Some of them could be made of local jades, such as xiu-yu (bowenite or serpentine), Nam Yang jade, Dushan jade, etc. However, only the best quality local jades (i.e. cannot be scratched, with great luster, without any impurities, etc. that would have the five virtues of a gentleman) would be used. A lot of time, due to the urgency of burial, some of the burial jade pieces could be made of local jades, however, almost most of the burial pieces were made of quality Hetian jade.
The material of this posted jade vase (more like a jade urn, missing a cover) appears to be a type of local jade, possibly Dushan jade since I did find some of the local Chinese jade could not be scratched. However, if one would check its density, it may not be higher than 2.86. The problem though even it cannot be scratched or even its density is high enough to be called jade, you have to excuse me for saying that nobody in ancient China or today would spend a lot of time in “carving” this piece because its material, IMHO, is simply inferior and it was full of all these impurities (dark inclusions and not blood spots, again IMHO) But the most telltale sign is its surface that totally lacks luster, therefore simply cannot be an archaic or even antique jade carving. Sorry!!
(3) Purposes of burial jades
According to this link:
http://www.asianart.org/regular/jade-in-han-burial-practices (worth watching)
“Deceased kings were often interred in coffins whose surfaces were painted in lacquer and inlaid with jade planks and circular bi disks. Their heads were rested on pillows of jade, and their ears and noses were stuffed with small columns of jade to prevent their vital essences from escaping. It’s likely that jade articles were also placed in their mouths, hands and anuses for the same reason.”
In short most burial jade pieces would be jade burial suits, jade pillows, or jade pieces to cover the eyes of the deceased or jade plugs to plug the mouth, nostrils, ears and anus of the deceased.
Can anyone show me a large jade vase that was a burial piece in Ancient China? I couldn’t find one.
Furthermore, most larger jade carvings that were sometime used in ancient burials are jade carving that were made for worships (to worship Heaven and Earth) such as jade bi, jade congs (zongs), jade huangs, etc. and not jade vases. Usually one would find large potteries buried with small jade pieces.
(4) Quality of carvings
Like I had said before, the labor cost to carve even small jade carvings, even today, is astronomical. To “carve” a quality Hetian jade carving today, may still take a year or longer, and would cost even more than some Qing dynasty Hetian jade pieces. Can one imagine how expensive it would take to carve a jade vase this size during Han dynasty? That is why one simply do not often see archaic or antique jade carvings that were made of poor material or carved badly, albeit large ones. I look at this jade vase, though I readily admit that I am no jade expert in carving quality, but based on its material, lack of luster and carving, it simply cannot convince me that this can be an Han dynasty burial jade. That said, sometime with better pictures (taken in natural light) or to be examined in person may sometime greatly alter one’s opinions.
Please understand that these are simply opinions coming from a jade novice and therefore no disrespect was intended and you should take it with a grain of salt. Like Ernest had recommended, if you are serious about this “family heirloom”, you should really seek (or pay for) jade professionals’ advice/appraisal on it and share the result with us. Thanks for sharing and please understand that even real jade experts often disagreed on some jade pieces. Good luck! Super