Jade_1675x637

Life-Size Jade Burial Suit with Gold Thread, China, Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.-9 C.E.). Excavated from the tomb of the King of Chu at Shizishan, Xuzhou in 1995. 69 x 26 13/16 inches. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

KANSAS CITY, MO.- In ancient China, death was believed to be such a continuation of life that burial tombs were plotted as elaborate afterlife arenas, complete with large security forces made of clay, horse-drawn chariots, precious stones and jade figures. Dreams of the Kings: A Jade Suit for Eternity opens Dec. 16 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and offers a remarkable window into ancient Chinese burial rituals following the discovery of nearly 100 tombs in the mid-20th century onwards in northern Jiangsu Province. 

Humankind’s dream of eternal life is enduring,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “The finest quality jade suit excavated to date, showcased in this exhibition, along with the other burial objects on display, reveal the dreams of the elegant kings of Chu.” 

3

Jade burial suit bound with gold wire excavated from the tomb of a King of Chu at Shizishan, Xuzhou. Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE), first half of second century BCE. L. 176 cm (69.29 in). Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

The centerpiece of Dreams of the Kings is a 2,000-year-old, life-sized jade and gold burial suit, meticulously assembled from more than 4,000 pieces of jade linked together with gold wire. Jade is China’s most precious material and has been exalted in that country since the Neolithic period as having deep spiritual significance associated with the afterlife. It was only during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E –220 C.E.) that it was used to completely encase the corpse to reflect the belief that the body would not decay if encased in jade. Jade burial suits were extremely expensive to produce and encouraged tomb looters, prompting a late Han ruler to prohibit jade burial suits. None dating later than Han have ever been found, and the jade suit in this exhibition is the finest to have survived from ancient China.  

In 201 B.C.E, the first emperor of the Han Dynasty appointed his younger brother as the first king of the Chu Kingdom, which was centered in what is now Xuzhou, halfway between Beijing and Shanghai. Elites in this kingdom enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, and 12 generations of kings were buried in monumental tombs carved into the rocky hills nearby. The excavation of these tombs yielded an astonishing number of sumptuous objects which are now on view in this exhibition. 

2

Detail of Jade burial suit bound with gold wire excavated from the tomb of a King of Chu at Shizishan, Xuzhou. Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE), first half of second century BCE. L. 176 cm (69.29 in). Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

The stunning jades in this exhibition, shown for the first time in the United States, demonstrate why jade is China’s most precious material,” said Colin Mackenzie, Senior Curator of East Asian Art. “Visitors will be amazed by the workmanship and the dramatic ambience of their display in our world-famous Chinese Temple.” 

Dreams of the Kings is divided into three sections: Court Ceremony, Feasting, Dance, and Ritual; Warfare and Authority; and Jade for Eternity. The first section displays a remarkable selection of ceramic figures of dancers and musicians, including an elegant, swaying dancer throwing her long sleeves in wild abandon, as well as a huge gilt bronze basin that reflects the importance of personal hygiene in ancient China. Warfare and Authority features a full suit of iron armor, along with miniature versions of the famous Terracotta Warriors, jade sword fittings, and a group of gold, silver and bronze seals of Chu rulers and officials. Jade for Eternity explores the roles of China’s most precious material, particularly jade’s moral symbolism and its efficacy in preserving the body in burial. 

4

S-shaped dragon jade pendant, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), H 17.1 cm (6 3/4 in), W. 10.8 cm (4 1/4 in), T. 0.6 cm (1/4 in), Excavated in 1994–95 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Shizishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum

5

Jade huan ring with dragon, phoenix and tapir design. Diam. (outer) 7.9 cm. Diam. (inner) 4.3 cm. T. 0.3 cm. Unearthed in 1982 from the queen of Chu tomb no.2 at Dongdongshan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

6

Earthenware tomb figurine of cavalryman inscribed 'feiji'. Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), H 59 cm (23 1/4 in), L 65 cm (25 5/8 in), excavated in 1982 from the pits of the earthenware warriors at Shizishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

7

Painted earthenware tomb figurine with hands cupped in salutation, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), H 54 cm (21 5/16 in), W 14 cm (5 9/16 in), excavated in 1986 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Beidongshan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

8

Stone weight in the shape of a leopard, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), H 14.5 cm (5 3/4 in), W 23.2 cm (9 3/16 in), D 13 cm (5 1/8 in), excavated in 1994–1995 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Shizishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

9

Earthenware tomb figurine of dancer, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), H 45 cm (17 3/4 in), W 42 cm (16 9/16 in), excavated in 2000 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Tuolanshan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

10

Gold belt buckle (with prong), detail, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), Buckle plates: L 13.3 cm (5 1/4 in) each, W. 6 cm (2 3/8 in) each, Wt 273.2 g (9.64 oz.) and 277 g (9.77 oz.); Buckle prong: L 3.3 cm (1 5/16 in), W 0.5 cm (3/16 in), Wt.5.8 g (0.20 oz), excavated in 1995 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Shizishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

Bronze mirror with portrayals of people, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE)

Bronze mirror with portrayals of people, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), Diameter 18.6 cm (7 3/8 in), T (at edge) 0.9 cm (3/8 in), excavated in 1994 from the Marquis of Wanqu’s tomb at Bojishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

11

Gilt bronze fang (square wine container), Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), H 58.8 cm (23 3/16 in), Max W (belly) 28.3 cm (11 3/16 in), W (top) 23 cm (9 1/16 in), W (base) 20 cm (7 7/8 in), excavated in 1995 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Shizishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

12

Iron lamellar armour, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), H 72 cm (28 3/8 in), W 68 cm (26 13/16 in), D 28 cm (11 1/16 in), excavated in 1995 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Shizishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

13

Jade chalice, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), H 10.8 cm (4 1/4 in), Diameter (at mouth) 4.5 cm (1 13/16 in), excavated in 1995 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Shizishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

14

Ornamented jade heng with phoenix motifs and dragon heads, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), L 13.1 cm (5 3/16 in), W. 5.5 cm (2 3/16 in), T 0.45 cm (3/16 in.), excavated in 2002 from the Han tomb at Taojiashan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

16

Jade embedded pillow with bronze panlong (coiled dragon) frame, Western Han (206 B.C. - 9 A.D.), L. 14 5/8 ins. (37.1 cm), W. 6 5/16 in. (16 cm), H. 4 1/2 ins. (11.4 cm), excavated from No. 1 Han tomb at Houlouschan, Xuzhou, in 1991. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

17

Jade zhi (wine vessel), Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE) H. 11.8 cm (4 11/16 inches), Diam. (at mouth) 6.7 cm (2 11/16 inches). Excavated in 1995 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Shizishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

18

Jade mask, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE) L. 24.5 cm (9 11/16 inches), W. 28 cm (11 1/16 inches). Excavated from the Han tomb at Houlou Mountain in Xuzhou (1993). Collection of the Xuzhou Museum.

Terracotta figurine playing a se (ancient Chinese plucked zither), Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE)

Terracotta figurine playing a se (ancient Chinese plucked zither), Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE) Figurine: H. 33 cm (13 inches), W. 26 cm (10 1/4 inches) Zither: L. 54 cm (21 5/16 inches), W. 14 cm (5 9/16 inches). Excavated from the Tomb of the Chu Prince at Tuolan Mountain in Xuzhou (2000)Collection of the Xuzhou Museum. 

19

Jade chongya ornament, 2nd century BCE. Length, 14.3cm; Width, 4.5cm. Unearthed during 1994 and 1995 from the King of Chu’s tomb at Shizishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum. 

15

A Structural perspective of Shizishan Chu King's tomb.

 A selection of 90 pieces from the museum’s celebrated collection of early Chinese art from the Shang (16th century, ca. 1046 B.C.E.) to the Han (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.) dynasties will be displayed in adjacent galleries. Included will be the world-famous jade bi ritual disc and many other exceptional pieces. Dreams of the Kings closes April 1, 2018.