A Passionate Collector’s Guide to Ancient Chinese Artifacts
Ancient Chinese artifacts are unique pieces of Chinese history and culture. But if you're unfamiliar with China's storied history and distinct eras, you may struggle to add priceless elements to your collection.
The Weisbrod Collection is one of the most exemplary assortments of Chinese artifacts and historical pieces. By studying their selection, you can learn more about the most prized Chinese artifacts.
Let's explore everything you need to know about these timeless tokens!
Prized Ancient Chinese Artifacts
There are quite a few examples of prized ancient Chinese artifacts. However, many of the valuable artifacts include:
- Screen Paintings
Pieces that are in excellent condition and remain whole are the most treasured of them all. Broken pottery and porcelain can still make an incredible part of your collection, but whole items are bound to entrance.
Let's briefly explore each of these artifact types to discover more about them. That way, you can concentrate on acquiring only the best pieces for your collection.
One of the most prized and popular types of ancient Chinese possessions is the decorative vase. Often made of porcelain or mixed ceramics, antique Chinese vases typically feature painted exteriors or gilded handles.
Delicate screen paintings rarely last the test of time. Consequently, they're some of the most prized ancient Chinese artifacts in the world. Additionally, many screen paintings feature delicately painted scenes and landscapes.
This feature makes them aesthetic wonders and well as treasured historical pieces. Should you ever see an ancient screen painting up for auction or as part of a collection, it would be wise to acquire it.
Humans have been creating sculptures for more than 30,000 years. So it should come as no surprise that there are several notable and beautiful ancient Chinese sculptures.
Sculptures of peaceful Buddha, fearsome lions, and mighty tigers are relatively common throughout many periods of Chinese history. So naturally, ceramics often portray these symbols as well.
Chinese porcelain is so beloved that many people in the West still refer to porcelain dinnerware as 'China.' Contemporary Chinese porcelain is relatively pricey. Still, ancient Chinese porcelain is virtually priceless.
Many classic Chinese ceramics feature white and blue exteriors. This Blue & White Lobed Jar, for example, is a highly prized piece that clearly shows many of the aesthetics of Ming Dynasty porcelain.
A Brief Overview of Chinese History
Having a basic understanding of Chinese history can help you select the best possible artifacts for your collection. As such, let's take a moment to discuss the rich history of China and its peoples.
Historians often divide Chinese history into three distinct parts:
- Ancient China
- Imperial China
- Modern China
In terms of artifact acquisition, you'll primarily want to focus on both Ancient China and Imperial China. While some modern or contemporary Chinese pieces are also valuable, they're hardly artifacts.
Ancient China was very similar to many other early civilizations. The peoples were divided into distinct clans, kingdoms, and societies. Each of these groups produced unique artifacts that reflected their beliefs.
However, there are many similarities between these pieces and ancient European or Mesoamerican artifacts. The bulk of intact ancient Chinese artifacts are sturdy bronze, pure gold, or carved stone.
Another commonality among ancient Chinese cultures and European ones is the usage of funeral customs. The prehistoric peoples in China often venerated their dead by leaving grave goods at their burial sites.
These goods (sometimes called mingqi) often included priceless jewelry, gold ornaments, and fragile porcelain sculptures and vessels. Many of these items are now considered invaluable artifacts.
The birth of Imperial China stretches back into 200 BCE. As such, it's an impressively long period that encapsulates several cultural and technological advances.
It was during this period that the warring Chinese kingdoms united under the ferocious leader Qin Shi Huang. It marked a significant change in Chinese customs, including artwork, writing, and ceramic production.
The Modern Chinese period begins around the turn of the 20th century. It includes the industrialization of China, as well as its economic revolution. As a result, many contemporary Chinese exports are enjoyed worldwide.
However, artifacts come from another time. Consequently, there aren't any modern Chinese pieces that belong within an ancient collection. However, there are valuable vintage items that might be worth investment.
If you're unfamiliar with Chinese historical eras and their associated artifacts, you'll want to educate yourself before making any purchases.
Chinese Historical Eras and Their Artifacts
Several distinct historical eras have changed China. However, the majority of Chinese periods are defined by the dynasties that ruled them. And each of these eras is notable for specific artworks and artifacts.
Generally, some of the most notable dynasties include the:
- Xia Dynasty
- Shang Dynasty
- Zhou Dynasty
- Qin Dynasty
- Han Dynasty
- Jin Dynasty
- Sui Dynasty
- Tang Dynasty
- Yuan Dynasty
- Ming Dynasty
- Qing Dynasty
It's essential to note that periods of war and kingdom unifications often marked the eras between dynasties. Still, we'll primarily explore the pieces created during these periods.
During this early period, the ancient peoples of China were creating bronze vessels, jars, and vases. Initially, many of these works featured simple designs and plain exteriors.
However, toward the latter half of the era, artisans added aesthetic touches that would spark the inspiration for even further experimentation.
Oracle boxes and bronze wine vessels are some of the most common artifacts from the Shang Dynasty. Other pieces carved from bone, such as small sculptures or daggers, also tend to hail from this era.
This final era before the unification of China was a crucial leap forward for bronzeworking and artwork. Many of the artifacts that survived from this period are elaborate vessels, sculptures, and medallions.
However, this sudden surge in technical skill would soon be overshadowed by a massive war. As such, pieces from this era (and previous ones) are rare.
Information about this pre-unification China is also limited. For example, this Zhou Dynasty Bi Disc is one of many similar Chinese artifacts that have no known use.
These items date back to the neolithic period, and are often beautifully engraved and embellished. But their precise function remains unknown.
This dynasty was one of the most chaotic, violent, and transformative for China. It's often remembered as the dynasty that united the warring kingdoms. But this unification came at a high price.
During the Qin Dynasty, it's estimated that about 20 million Chinese people died due to the actions of China's First Emperor. This turbulence resulted in a societal and cultural upheaval.
That said, there are many Qin Dynasty bronze works that have survived the passing eras. In addition, a handful of painted artworks and sculptures can also be found in various collections around the world.
Many of the most sought-after pieces hail from the Han Dynasty. This era succeeding the violent Qin Dynasty was welcomed by many and heralded a change in societal focus.
The Han Dynasty has provided us with some of the most gorgeous and timeless pieces. Beautifully carved figurines, expertly designed ceramics, and official coinage developed during this era.
The artisans who lived during the Jin Dynasty used all of the innovations that came with the Han Dynasty and then improved upon them. As a result, many of the ceramics from this period are mind-bogglingly ornate.
The Sui Dynasty is perhaps most notable for increasing the prevalence of jade sculptures, figurines, talismans, and jewelry. Ceramic workers also seem to have perfected to glazing process during this era.
Rough shapes are now a thing of the past. The Tang Dynasty was a kind of artistic renaissance for Chinese artisans. Many of the pieces made during this era are hyperrealistic and incredibly detailed.
The ostentatious jewelry, artwork, and sculptures that marked the Tang Dynasty became noticeably more simplistic during the Yuan Dynasty. However,
The Ming Dynasty sees yet another return to simpler, less detailed pieces. The once-rich complexities of handmade ceramics and sculptures transformed into painted scenes along the sides of lacquered porcelains.
Though detailed decorations were primarily upheld through paints in the previous two eras, they saw a massive comeback during the Qing Dynasty.
In fact, this era saw the best of both worlds: Bright colors and intricate details. In addition, the craftsmanship of many Qing Dynasty artifacts is genuinely stunning.
This period saw the production of dyed silk clothing, embellished gold cups and vessels, elaborate jewelry boxes, and statues adorned with inlaid pearls. Naturally, many of these treasures belonged to emperors or nobles.
However, the ordinary people seem to have also produced and enjoyed a wide variety of high-quality pieces during this dynasty.
Find Exquisite Pieces Today
Some of the most prized ancient Chinese artifacts include printed screens, sculptures, and porcelain pieces. But understanding the significance these artifacts hold in Chinese culture isn't also simple.
That's why it's crucial to study Chinese history and its historical eras. That way, you can select the most exemplary pieces to complete your collection while also showing each artifact the respect it deserves.
Are you curious to learn more about collecting delicate, priceless Chinese art? If so, be sure to check out this interview with Michael Weisbrod!