Since the Neolithic period, jade has been valued for its rarity as well as its beauty. In China and Mesoamerica, jade items have had profound cultural implications. Jade objects, like belt buckles, decorative figurines, and snuff bottles were used as symbols of social identity, hierarchy, status, wealth and power in Chinese culture. These were among the most precious heirlooms of the nobility and upper class. In ancient Mesoamerican cultures, jade was highly prized and often connected to rulers and spirituality. A wide variety of items, including tools, figurines, and jewelry, reflected the strong cosmological and symbolic associations the culture had with this luminous, hard stone.
Traditional methods of carving, like chipping the surface with a chisel, are not effective when working with jade because of its hardness. Instead, artists must employ a three-part process that includes cutting, grinding, and polishing. Because the work is labor intensive, time-consuming, and detailed, artists need to be highly skilled. Drawn from the FIA’s permanent collection, Art of Jade features objects from China that range from the Neolithic period (8,000–2,000 BCE) to the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911/12) and from Mesoamerican cultures dating back as early as 2100 BCE.