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Ancient Artistry: Pre-Chinese Ceramics and Jades from the Shatzman Collection

This exhibition, the third in a series devoted to the Shatzman collection, follows the collectors’ quest for ever-earlier traditions. Their latest collecting focus thus celebrates the oldest art from the area of the world that we know as China. These ancient ceramics and jades, spanning the fifth to second millennia BC, were produced before the formation of Chinese civilization itself and convey the sophistication of early societies that emerged in different regions. Important aspects of Chinese art and culture, such as innovations in ceramic technology, jade-working, silk production, ancestral worship, and shamanistic ritual traditions, had their origins in these diverse Neolithic cultures. The Shatzman collection presents the distinctive artistry of each culture through ceramics of the Yangshao horizon and its various cultures of the upper and middle Yellow River valley, jades from the Hongshan and Liangzhu cultures of eastern coastal China, ceramics of the Dawenkou and Longshan cultures of the lower reaches of the Yellow River, and ceramics of the early bronze age from central and northeastern China.

Each of the early cultures that developed in China produced distinctive traditions that reflected factors such as climate and environment, natural resources available, relative isolation or extent of cross-cultural interaction, technological capabilities, and artistic creativity. Neolithic cultures in China were the first to work jade, but were not the first to produce ceramics. Far older traditions of pottery making existed in Japan and Siberia. But over time, the creativity and innovation of potters in China gained superiority over other early ceramic traditions as skills improved, ever more efficient means of production were achieved, and technological advances were pursued. Ceramics and jades buried in tombs have enabled archaeologists to distinguish the early cultures, with pottery typology being used as the main criterion for defining the chronology and geographic range of many of these Neolithic cultures.

Ellen Avril
Chief Curator and Curator of Asian Art