Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jade - The Stone of Heaven

I have a friend who grew up in Japan and inherited the most amazing collection of Asian treasures.  The pieces range from antiques to mid-century modern and the items range from carpets, furniture, porcelains, art and jewelry.  It has been my pleasure to sell many of their beautiful items for them.  They have been going through a collection of jade and selecting pieces to sell.  I thought I would share what I have learned about this prized stone.

 Jade is the most precious of all gems to the Chinese, even more precious than gold.   No wonder it is said to be the incarnation of the cosmic principle and possess the five essential virtues of Chinese philosophy, compassion, modesty, courage, justice and wisdom.

These ornamental stones were being brought to Europe from China and Central America and were called jade. For over 7000 years jade was used to make utilitarian items and artistic creations. In the mid 1800's it was realized that the name jade was being applied to two different minerals. Both were exquisite and they were hard to distinguish from each other. The end result is that there are two different stones and they are both called jade.

Jadeite and nephrite have very different chemical compositions and are classified by gemologist as different species. They both occur in the same color and translucency range, both are very hard and they were traditionally used for the same purposes.  Even though it is common to refer to both gems as jade it is more proper to use or include the species jadeite or nephrite.

Jadeite varies from translucent to opaque and from shades of green, brown, orange, red, lavender and yellow to gray and near white. Jadeite has the full range of jade's colors.  Color is the most important factor in determining value.  The emerald green jade, called Imperial Jade, is the most valued and highly sought after by collectors.  Lavender is the second most valuable color.

Nephrite is more common and found all over the world and in greater quantities than jadeite.  The greens and grays are most common but it is sometimes found in brown, yellow and white.  The translucent white to light yellow is known in China as mutton fat jade.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Most Mysterious Woman in the World

I am fascinated with all things Leonardo.  He was an artist who's scientific knowledge is reflected in his art, an engineer and inventor.   He loved animals and was a vegetarian.  He despised war yet developed deadly weapons. His work is even more fascinating in that it is packed with symbolism and  code.   I recently read an article about art experts from the National Cultural Heritage committee in Italy having discovered tiny letters painted into the eyes of The Mona Lisa. They examined the Mona Lisa after finding a book in an antique shop that claimed there were tiny hidden symbols in the eyes.  The symbols were discovered  by viewing magnified images of the 500 year old portrait.

The symbols are not visible with the naked eye but are seen clearly with a magnifying glass.  The right eye appears to have the letters LV, possibly for Da Vinci name.  There are symbols in the left eye as well but more difficult to make out. Symbols were also found painted in a bridge in the background of the painting.

Art historian Silvano Vinceti said the letters B or S, or possibly the initials CE, were discernible, a said they were clue to the identity of the model who sat for the painting. The Mona Lisa  has often been identified as the wife of a Florentine merchant, but Vinceti disagreed, claiming Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa in Milan. Numbers found on the back of the painting suggest it was painted in the 1490's when Da Vinci was in Milan and that the model was from the court of the Duke of Milan.

On a trip to France I was able to visit the beautiful town of Amboise and the chateau where Leonardo spent the last years of his life.  He may have been buried at the Chapel of Saint-Hubert on the grounds but mystery surrounds his final resting place as well.