Softly translucent with a matte lustre, silky smooth to the touch yet harder than steel, created by nature and crafted by the human hand – no other material was as beloved in China as jade.

This fascinating stone – in China, jade primarily refers to nephrite ­– comes in subtle shades ranging from milky white to pink and green to almost black. Its hardness and toughness pose the greatest challenges to artisans. Only by grinding it with quartz sand can jade be brought into shape, and only through days of polishing does it reveal its magical lustre. All the more impressive is the fineness and richness of detail in Chinese jade objects.

The exhibition invites visitors to discover jade miniatures from the museum's collection. The small sculptures, many only a few centimetres in size, only reveal their full charm upon closer inspection. The figurines are accompanied by large-format photographs by the Zurich photographer Felix Streuli. His images bring the objects to life, unveil their spirit, and reveal minute details. The magnificent pictures, themselves works of art, form a wonderful ensemble with the jade figures.

Jade has been closely associated with power and status in China since earliest times. Emblems of rank made of jade were part of court etiquette as early as the 1st millennium BC. At the same time, the material itself was fascinating. No other stone was so robust and resistant, so hard and durable. Hence, jade was also ascribed a protective function. People wore jade amulets in this world and the beyond to ward off evil forces and keep demons at bay.

From the 10th century onwards, archaic jades became popular collectibles. Among members of the learned upper class, it soon became fashionable to own a personal collection of antique pieces. New forms of jade objects also gained favour. In particular, objects for a literati's desk such as wrist rests, water containers used in painting and calligraphy, and animal figures as paperweights became popular.

The allure of jade peaked in the 18th century. In their designs, artisans skilfully exploited the material’s natural qualities such as changing hues or the presence of inclusions. Objects were crafted in the shape of animals and plants in all variations and combinations, with the carvers’ imagination knowing no bounds, and their designs revealing breath-taking delicacy.