You are here

Rocks As Art—A Chinese Tradition

This is the third and final program in the Natural Beauties lecture series.

In late imperial China, polished jade carvings and natural craggy rocks mounted on pedestals were appreciated by connoisseurs as two favorite genres of art. This lecture investigates the symbolic and aesthetic traditions associated with each of these geological specimens. Jade embodies values of purity, scholarly refinement, and endurance, while carefully selected, naturally pitted stones hint at a life immortality by directing viewers’ thoughts to rugged mountain peaks said to conceal the caves immortals being. It is impossible to fully embrace Chinese art without understanding the deep cultural appreciation for rocks, whether as jade vessels, snuff bottles, and small carvings to hold in the hand, which were typically worked with stunning decorations, or as natural rocks placed on a scholar’s desk.


5:30-7:30 p.m. | Natural Beauties, mansion, and greenhouse open for self-guided touring
7:30-8:30 p.m. | Lecture


Jan Stuart is the first Melvin R. Seiden Curator of Chinese Art. She assumed the post when she returned to the Freer|Sackler in 2014, after serving as Keeper of Asia (department head) at the British Museum since 2006. There, in addition to senior management responsibilities and supervising and curating exhibitions, she took the lead on creating new galleries for the Sir Percival David collection of Chinese ceramics and for Chinese paintings. Previously, Stuart had served as a curator of Chinese art at the Freer|Sackler, where she came after holding a Mellon Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She earned degrees from Princeton and Yale Universities, specializing in Chinese art, language, and culture.

Today, Stuart works broadly in the area of Chinese art, with a special focus on ceramics, decorative arts, textiles, and court arts, including paintings, from the Song through Qing dynasty. For the Freer|Sackler’s 2017 reopening, she was responsible for new displays of artworks from the Song through Qing. Currently she is cocurating and coediting with Daisy Wang the exhibition and book Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912, coorganized with the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem) and the Palace Museum (Beijing). Actively involved in museum acquisitions, Stuart also publishes regularly and serves on editorial boards for Ars Orientalis and Arts of Asia.


Explore exquisite stones and minerals that became works of art in the hands of masterful artisans.

Tuesday, March 24 | Russian Malachite at Hillwood with Wilfried Zeisler
Tuesday, March 31 | Nature's Art in Stone with Jeffrey Post
Tuesday, April 7 | Rocks As Art—A Chinese Tradition with Jan Stuart

Natural Beauties Lecture Series

Natural Beauties Lecture Series
Tuesday, March 24, 2020 (All day) to Tuesday, April 7, 2020 (All day)

Explore exquisite stones and minerals that became works of art in the hands of masterful artisans.

  • ornately carved Buddha-hand citron in Hillwood's collection

    Buddha-hand citron, China, 1700s, Jade, Bequest of Marjorie Merriweather Post, 1973

    Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens