This is a close-up of an enameled court necklace, featured in “Bringing Heaven to Earth.” (Image courtesy of Paul Holberton Publishing)
New York--One historian has turned an inquisitive eye upon an expansive private collection of carved and silver jewelry from the late Qing dynasty.

“Bringing Heaven to Earth: Chinese Silver Jewellery and Ornament in the Late Qing Dynasty” explores works obtained by an unnamed prolific collector at North American art fairs between 2004 and 2012.

The author of the book is Elizabeth Herridge, former managing director of the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, Las Vegas and currently a London-based specialist art and arts management consultant.
20170419 ChineseSilver insertThis amethyst and silver brooch, which is featured on the cover of “Bringing Heaven to Earth” is made of silver and amethyst and was likely produced between 1890 and 1920.

Without any notation of the collection’s provenance, Herridge went about analyzing the individual works.

She established that the items are from the late Qing dynasty and slightly beyond, from approximately 1860 to 1930.

Examining a silver and amethyst brooch depicting Buddhist and Daoist figure Guanyin, a protector of young children, with a young boy, Herridge determined that the piece, which appears on the book’s cover, could have been influenced by Western depictions of the Madonna and child.

Catholic missionaries came to China in the 16th century and images of the Madonna influenced porcelain makers of the Fujian province, Herridge explains, making it likely that the brooch was from that region, though from a later date.

The carving of the amethyst is exceptional, Herridge notes, due to the stone’s softness.

It is with this investigative and thorough eye that Herridge disseminates the works featured in “Bringing Heaven to Earth.”

The overwhelming majority of the collection feature carvings that Herridge says are distinctly Chinese in that they were carved from the outside in, though for some of the works she says it's possible that they were produced with wealthy Western tourists of the era in mind.

Daoist and Buddhist motifs like Guanyin, such as the Eight Immortals and the Hehe Twins, abound. Herridge contemplates whether many of these symbols, which were thought to bring luck in the form of happy marriages or the birth of sons, were worn in faith or as a signal to society of a person’s intentions or character.

Gemstones like lapis lazuli, jade, tourmaline, amethyst, rock crystal, rose quartz, carnelian and serpentine feature as carving canvases, as does silver itself, which is noteworthy because silver is “not specifically Chinese in character,” Herridge says.

Ultimately, Herridge’s tome presents more questions than answers, but expertly begins to unwind the complicated histories of the collection.

Published by Ianthe Press in collaboration with Paul Holberton Publishing, “Bringnig Heaven to Earth: Chinese Silver Jewellery and Ornament in the Late Qing Dynasty” features a foreword by Frances Wood and is available on the Paul Holberton website.


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