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(Exhibition: November 25, 2000 to September 23, 2001.

Catalogue published in UK, 2000)

Chinese Gold Jewellery


At the heart of the Hermitage Oriental collection is a large body of Chinese gold jewellery from the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the start of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The only comparable collection is in the Gugong Museum, Taiwan (gold from the treasury of the Qing dynasty; Catalogue 1986).

The first decorations and hairpins were brought to Russia as diplomatic gifts from China during negotiations regarding establishment of a border in the late 17th century. Some ornaments were kept in Petersburg collections or the Kunstkammer, but most are mentioned in the later pages of the inventory of Catherine's property begun in 1789, before the entries for 1792. indicating an arrival date of 1-90-1. The Hermitage inventory of 1859 also mentions that the Chinese jewellery belonged to Catherine II.

Most of the objects are hairpins and ornaments from ceremonial head-dresses. Hairpins were the most common form of female adornment in China, with a developed language of hairpins which could be used to indicate status and rank. Such pins usually came in pairs and were placed symmetrically on either side of the chignon, while at the centre was a single, flat, elongated hairpin. Small decorations could be attached to little silk hats and forehead bands. The phoenix ornaments in this exhibition possibly decorated the crown-like hat which was the Chinese Empress's ceremonial headwear (Catalogue 1986, pls 2, 3), and certainly only women from very rich families would have had gold jewellery. Male attire also included jewellery accessories, stitched to the front of headwear as hat buckles or suspended on strings of pearls or woven silk coloured ribbons from the back of the hat, perhaps attached to the front collar of the robe. Gold pins might also have served as the equivalent of money.

A Russian description of 1800 records contemporary perceptions of how Chinese noble women did their hair. It specifically relates to the ethnographic collections in the Kunstkammer, but the author was undoubtedly aware of the palace collection of Chinese gold: "The usual head-dress for Chinese ladies consists of dividing the hair into many locks, and the-weaving into them of gold and silver flowers and precious stones. Often to these are added an artificial bird, whose wings fall over the temples, while the bent tail forms a feather in the middle of the head. The body lies over the forehead itself. The neck and beak over the nose, the legs entwined in the hair, supporting the whole construction, which is however worn only by noble Ladies. Sometimes they have several such birds, interwoven to form the likeness of a garland on the head. Young girls wear paper caps wound round with a silk ribbon, decorated with precious stones, forming an angle over the forehead. The crown of the head is decorated with flowers between which diamond pins are stuck. Aged women and those of mean station wrap their heads several times with silk cloths" (Belyayev 1800, section 2, p. 161).

In China, the Emperors repeatedly sought to regulate the wearing of gold, silver and precious stones and materials, and the form of decorations, although they were not always successful. Under the Emperor Qianlong (1736-95) a summary of laws was published in 1759 regulating the wearing of precious items in accordance with rank (Huang ch'ao li-ch'i t'u-shih / Illustrated Precedents for Ritual Paraphernalia of the Imperial Court....).

Gold with red stones (hung bao shi - rubies or spinels), sapphires, large pearls and images of phoenixes were permitted only to the Empress and imperial concubines. Diamonds and emeralds were not used.

All the gold jewellery in this exhibition is made of the finest filigree, difficult to sec with the naked eye. Thanks to the ductility of gold, a single gram of high carat metal could be drawn out to several metres of wire. The filigree technique was mastered in China no later than the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 9 AD). During the last two dynasties, the late Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911), filigree was popular and widely used in items for the imperial court. Some details were screwed on with thin wire, allowing them to tremble when moved or touched. Stones were fixed using natural glue or lacquer, or sometimes set in clasps; they could have drilled holes for threading onto gold wire. All the stones were polished as cabochons, but never faceted.

Jewellery was often seen as a talisman, incorporating Chinese symbols for longevity, happiness and wealth.



Six Ornaments in the Form of Phoenixes.

17th-18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, rubies, spinels, sapphires, pearls.paint.

Length of birds: 3.5 (4 items); 6.5; 8.5

Inv. Nos LS 351, LS 352, LS 356, LS 559, LS 379, LS 382

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication. (Illus.see p. 208)


The phoenixes themselves are of thin filigree reinforced with thicker wire; small leaves, flowers and clouds are attached on wires to their bodies. Some of the birds are decorated with touches of green and dark blue paint, while on the crowns and backs are polished pierced rubies, sapphires and pearls - stones which according to the rules of the Qing Empire could only be worn by Empresses and the imperial concubines. Several figures have flat cloud-shaped sheets of gold at the bottom. Small holes in the feathers indicate that the phoenixes were attached to a crown or hat by thread passed through fine tubes (some small tubes survive). The smaller phoenixes are male (feng), larger ones female (huang).

In China the phoenix came to be seen as the symbol of the Empress and the highest of all birds. There are 36 male and female phoenixes of different sizes (between 1.5cm and 9cm) in the Hermitage collection and these elaborate, fragile birds once decorated a crown or hat belonging to a Chinese Empress. This was possibly the crown mentioned in the inventory of 1789, which was dismantled in the early 19th century.

Similar birds with pearls decorate the summer hat of an imperial concubine in the Gugong Museum (Catalogue 1986, pl. 2).



Three Hairpins with Phoenixes.

17th-18th century, China

Cold, gold filigree, rubies, spinels, pink quartz, pearls, paint, silver.

Length 11.5; 10.5; 13. Birds: 10-11

Inv. Nos. LS 339, LS 340, LS 454

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Each hairpin has a single tooth onto which the phoenix is attached with wire. One bird is male (feng), two are female (huang). The birds are of (229)filigree, in places reinforced with stronger wire, which is also used for the wings. Bodies and crowns are decorated with flowers and red stones; lotus flowers and leaves are incorporated into the birds' five tail feathers and fixed on fine wires. The phoenixes hold small gold pearls in their beaks, while two cloud shaped wires represent their breath. Strings of pearls or other pendants may have been suspended from the beaks. Green paint is visible on some parts of the feathers.

Hairpins with male and female phoenixes were usually arranged in symmetrical pairs. Phoenix hairpins were popular, but only court ladies were allowed to wear gold and red stones in their hair. Phoenixes of cheaper materials were sometimes worn in the hair by brides ("Empress for a night").

Like the previous ornaments, these probably formed part of the crown mentioned in the inventory of 1789.

A crown from the tomb of the consort of the Emperor Wanli (1573-1619) includes phoenixes of gold, pearls, red stones and kingfisher feathers.

Such gold hairpins are represented in several collections (Singer 1972, pl. 100; Gullensvard 1953, pls 54-6) and are attributed to different dynasties from the Tang (617-906) to late Ming - early Qing. As this type of decoration is traditional, it is very difficult to date such items precisely.



Hat Ornament in the Shape of a Vase with Flowers. 18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, spinel, paint. Length 7.5

Inv. No. LS 303

Provence: Main Hermitage Collection.



Relief vase or basket with flowers, buds and petals of the mudan peony, which probably once adorned a hat. It may have had gold decorations stitched to either side. The flowers are attached to movable wires and the centre of the plant is decorated with a large spinel, but similar stones which once formed the heart of the bud and the basket are now lost (they survive on the pair to this item, also in the Hermitage).

Baskets of peonies indicate wishes for prosperity, a successful career and wealth. Baskets of similar form, with kingfisher feathers, adorn a hat in the Gugong Museum (Catalogue 1986, pls 85,86).

M.M. (230)


Pair of Earrings. 17th-18th century, China

Cold, gold filigree, paint. 2.3

Inv. Nos LS 422a,b

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Each of these coloured gold earrings has on the rim a small filigree phoenix, its feathers painted green. There are several pairs of such earrings in the Hermitage: portraits of Empresses of the Qing dynasty reveal that three pairs of earrings could be worn at one time, with several holes in each ear. Most importantly, they had to be arranged symmetrically.



Pendant Ornament. 17th-18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, ruby, sapphire, pearl, paint.

Length 8.5

Inv. No. LS 436

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Attached to the centre of this ornament of intertwined six-petal flowers is a figure of Shouxing. Star God of Longevity, with his prominent forehead and beard. Wearing a robe, in one hand he holds a staff, in the other a double gourd. He is accompanied by flying bats (fu -happiness), two cranes (for longevity) and a deer (lu - career). Also attached to wires are bamboo, a banana, a lingzhi fungus, cloud stones, all indicating wishes for longevity, happiness and success.

Such an ornament may have been suspended from a man's hat on strings of pearls or woven ribbons, or stitched onto the front of the hat.



Hairpin. 17th-18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, rubies, tourmaline, paint.

Length 16.5

Inv. No. LS 313

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Hairpin on two gold teeth, the top with a ruyi sceptre and the character shou, symbolising longevity, below. Between the teeth is the yin-yang sign, emerging from which on wires are two stylised dragon clouds, a flower and a large tourmaline. It symbolises longevity and the fulfilment of the owner's wishes.

A symmetrical pair to this hairpin is also in the Hermitage and a comparable ruyi ornament (but with a single tooth) is in the Gugong Museum (Catalogue 1986, pl. 131).



Hairpin. 17th-18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, spinel, pearls, paint. Length 12

Inv. No. LS 322

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Hairpin with a single tooth shaped like a knotty stick; the top in the form of a ruyi sceptre or the mushroom lingzhi fungus. In the centre is a large red stone from which emerge a branch with leaves and a small pearl. There are traces of paint and mastic in places where stones have been lost. The hairpin symbolises the wish for "all you desire" and longevity.



Rings. 18th century, China

Gold; cast, chased, enamelled. Diameter 2

Inv. Nos LS 419, LS 460, LS 464

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Such rings were usually worn symmetrically in pairs (one on each hand). Rings were not of fixed size but were adjustable. Most of the examples in the Hermitage are gold, with a cast rectangular panel bearing chased ornament. One of the rings shown here has figures in a landscape, the second has a branch with a leaf and two five-petal flowers, the third shows a stylised shou character on a round panel decorated with blue enamel.



Pendant Ornament: Boy on a Qilin. 17th-18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, paint. Length 5

Inv. No. LS 437

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



The boy sits on the back of the mythical beast known as a qilin, its body covered with scales and with a twisting fluffy tail, hoofs, a dragon's head and two horns on its head. Both legs swung over to one side, the boy wears the waisted robe of a civil official. In his left hand he holds a scroll, but the attribute which was once in the right hand has been lost; it was probably a lotus or the ruyi sceptre. Attached to the qilin with wires are a rhinoceros horn and an ingot, with ribbons of clouds.

On the back are loops which were probably used to attach the ornament to a necklace or a (232)brooch which fastened at the neck, of the kind worn by Chinese women hoping for the birth of a male child who would go on to have a successful official career and a happy and wealthy life. The qilin brings sons and is a symbol of good wishes. A boy on a qilin in the clouds is a frequent feature of Chinese decorative art and textiles.


Hairpin with Flowers and Frog. 17th-18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, rubies, sapphire, paint. Length 11

Inv. No. 299

Provenance; Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



A composition of lotus flowers and buds, peonies, orchids and water plants, with a little panel attached to a branch over which flies a crane. The ornament also includes ribbons of clouds and bamboo and at the base of the composition a large lotus leaf with a frog seated upon it. All the details are in fine openwork filigree, the heart of the flowers decorated with polished precious stones of red and blue, and some details are painted blue and green.

In China, the frog had several symbolic meanings, one being a protection against evil. This hairpin with its frog, flowers and crane may have served as a talisman and at the same time have implied wishes for numerous male offspring, for well-being and longevity.


Hair Ornament. 17th-18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, almandine, paint. Length 4.5

Inv. No. LS 348

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Top of a hairpin, in the form of a gold filigree crab holding water plants in its claws, its shell adorned with a large almandine (hung bao shi). In (233)China the crab was thought to remove curses and ward off evil charms. Crab was used for medical purposes and as an aphrodisiac. The crab form was also used for boxes in the toilet set [Cat 358].

There is a hairpin with similar ornament in Taiwan (Catalogue 1986, pl. 130).



Hairpin. 18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, almandine, paint. Length 10

Inv. No. LS324

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Single-tooth hairpin, the top in the form of a flower with an almandine at the centre, from which is suspended a perch. An oriole is attached by its foot to a chain, and has at the sides two little cups for food and drink. Songbirds, particularly orioles, were often kept in China, and birds on perches are an extremely popular motif in Chinese art.

The Hermitage has a number of such hairpins.



Ornament. 17th-18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, spinel, paint. Length 8.5

Inv. No. LS 433

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Three structures stand on the deck of a dragon-boat: gates by the prow, in the centre a pavilion, and on the bridge a tent. Also on deck are two officials and an oarsman. The dragon's body has three empty nests which once contained stones indicating the location of portholes. Beneath the boat is an ornament of waves with a red stone in the middle and on the bottom are several loops used for strings of pearls.

May have decorated a man's collar or have been part of a hairpin.

M.M. (234)


Pair of Hairpins, 18th century, China

Gold, silver, paint, pearls; filigree. Length 17.5; width of top 5.5

Inv. Nos LS 312, LS 450

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.



Hairpins were usually arranged symmetrically in pairs in the hair. Here each pin consists of two parts, the silver pin and the gold filigree top, attached to each other with wire. The top is made up of four elements from a scholar's study. Over the hairpin is a vase in the form of an archaic ancient vessel of the gu type, with ribbons of clouds along the edges; set into it are peacock feathers and three coral branches. On one side of the vase is a globular incense-burner on three legs of the ding type, from which rises smoke twisting to form the character shou (meaning longevity). There is a surviving pearl on one of the pins at the top of the character. On the other side of the vase are a round container for incense and a small vase with two sticks and a spatula for putting incense into the burner. All the vessels are on a gold ribbon from which grow bamboo shoots on wires.



Hair Ornament. 17th-18th century

Gold, gold filigree, ruby, paint. 9.5x7 Inv. No. LS 300

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection. First publication.



Made of fine filigree, painted with blue and green, this ornament has one surviving ruby. It would have been attached to a hairpin with wire. The Russian imperial collection probably included another such piece to form a pair. On a branch with lotuses and other water plants are a ruyi sceptre, a Chinese mouth organ (sheng), brush and ingot, a round box for ink, a hat in the shape of the ancient imperial crown, and bamboo shoots. The incorporation of phonetic rebuses and symbolic items might indicate that this piece was intended to wish the owner a successful career-promotion within the service (the sheng and the brush), wealth (the ingot), rank (the hat), firmness (bamboo), and the general fulfilment of the owner's desires (ruyi).

There is an ornament with similar symbolic items in the Gugong Museum (Catalogue 1986, pl. 141).

M.M. (235)


Ornaments from a Pairof Hairpins. 17th-18th century, China

Gold, gold filigree, pearls, rubies, paint. 9 x 10

Inv. Nos LS 305, 306

Provenance: Main Hermitage Collection.

First publication.


Tops of two symmetrical hairpins, woven of fine gold filigree and decorated with blue and green paint. One has a surviving ruby, the other a ruby and a pearl. These ornaments were attached mechanically to the pin with gold wires.

In the centre of each ornament is a stringed instrument or qin (Chinese lute), shown wrapped in cloth and tied with a ribbon with fluttering ends. Attached to the qin with wires arc chequered boards for playing wei-qi, a kind of Chinese chess, with a round box for the pieces: an unfurled scroll with the yin-yang sign; a pile of books, and ornaments in the form of spiral tendrils and stones. The qin, wei-qi board, scroll and pile of books are the symbols of the four scholarly arts in China.

M.M. (236)


Date: 2015-12-24; view: 585

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