Monday, November 3, 2014

Jadeite Cabbage remains main attraction at National Palace Museum in Taipei



By Nancy T. Lu

Back in 1889, when Qing Dynasty Emperor Guangxu’s Consort Jin arrived in the imperial court for her wedding, she brought as part of her dowry the famous Jadeite Cabbage with Insects, a must-see for present-day visitors at the landmark National Palace Museum in Taipei. Somehow the daily queue leading to the showcase of this symbol of female virtue is always exceptionally long. The partly white, partly green jadeite has a white stalk symbolizing purity, leaves meaning fertility as well as locust and katydid suggesting children.

Imperfections of this piece of jadeite, including cracks and patches of different natural shades, have been skillfully and cleverly turned around by an unknown 19th century sculptor to create the veins of the cabbage’s stalks and leaves.

According to the National Palace Museum, the repository of fabulous art treasures once kept in the Forbidden City in China, the cabbage first began to turn up in Chinese paintings during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Artists opted then not to hide the traces of insects, in fact, drawing them instead with the plants and even allowing them to nibble away, fly or jump about. Captured, therefore, was the rhythm of life and interpreted was the ideal of a harmonious co-existence of all living things in nature.

The Chinese cabbage took on different meanings for different people in Chinese history. Rulers saw the humble cabbage as a symbol of self-reflection. Subjects offered cabbage, inspiring those in power to make sure that people did not go hungry. Scholars perceived the cabbage as symbolizing lofty ambitions. Instead of pursuing fame and fortune, they were moved to seek satisfaction in what they had.

Hands of great craftsmen converted flaws of jade into priceless masterpieces, enriching lives with beautiful memories for generations. The jade treasures still are looked upon with admiration and awe by people from all walks of life.

The Jadeite Cabbage with Insects, in particular, was loaned along with calligraphies from the 7th to the 14th century to the Tokyo National Museum from June 24 to July 7 this year. This unprecedented move took place after lengthy negotiations which were begun in 2013. The item, thus, made a rare first voyage overseas in 65 years.

The Meat-shaped Stone, another important treasure in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, went on view also this year at the Kyushu National Museum in Japan. The banded jasper resembles pork with defined layers of fat and lean meat. As a reciprocal gesture, the two museums in Japan will lend rare works of art to the National Palace Museum in Taipei next year. 

The Jadeite Cabbage with Insects has been returned to the museum in Taipei to once more draw the admiring glances of visitors from all over the world. Displayed briefly along with the star cabbage attraction during the recent absence of the Meat-shaped Stone at the Taipei museum were the Chinese Jadeite Cabbage, the Jadeite Cabbage Floral Holder and the Nephrite Brush Holder with a Jadeite Garden Scene, all dating back to the Qing Dynasty. The eyeful of cabbage did make an impression on the exquisite Chinese taste for the vegetable.

Photographs shown above are courtesy of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.












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