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Category: early modern

Photo Wednesday: Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan

13 July, 2016 (10:48) | early modern, himalayas | By: xensen

Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan

Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan.

This spectacular photo from Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn)‘s photostream shows the “Tiger’s Nest” monastery of Taktsand. First constructed in 1692, the Buddhist monastery is located in the upper Paro valley in eastern Bhutan. Padmasambhava (“Lotus-Born”) is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours in a nearby cave.

Also known as Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava is considered by the Nyingma school of Buddhism to be a founder of their tradition. A Tshechu festival is held in his honor in March or April. The festival features masked dancers, similar to these photographed at the Wangdue Phodrang tshechu in central Bhutan by Pradiptaray:

Tsechu cham at the Wangdue Phodrang tshechu, photographed by Pradiptaray

Tsechu cham at the Wangdue Phodrang tshechu, photographed by Pradiptaray .

Photo Wednesday: the Taj Mahal

11 June, 2008 (05:00) | architecture/public, early modern, south asia | By: xensen

Lotfollah mosque, Isfahan, outside view

1 May, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, early modern, west asia | By: xensen

Lotfollah mosque

30 April, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, early modern, west asia | By: xensen

lotfolla mosque, isfahan, iran

This spectacular photo from seier+seier+seier’ s photostream shows the dome of the Lotfollah mosque in Isfahan. I have been working on a book on Persian ceramics lately; just today I was placing Isfahan on a map that will appear in the book. Isfahan, now in Iran (about 340 km south of Tehran), was a major city during the Safavid Seljuk period and for a time the capital of Safavid Seljuk Persia.

This will be a cool book — I’ll post some images from it soon — featuring tiles, vessels, bowls, and small statuary. But nothing in it is as grand as this majestic dome, which dates from the early seventeenth century.

Compare this dome’s burst of color and pattern with a sunflower image I posted recently on another of my blogs (buriedmirror.com, devoted to Mesoamerica).

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Mu Rui’s medallion

23 April, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, early modern | By: xensen

gold plaque given mu rui by the yongle emperor, from the najing municipal museum

Recently I’ve been reading Perpetual Happiness by Shihi-Shan Henry Tsai, a biography of Zhu Di, who ruled the Ming dynasty as the Yongle emperor from 1403–1424 (more on this later). Formerly the Prince of Yan, the Yongle emperor usurped the throne from his nephew and moved the Ming capital from Nanjing to his personal power base at Beijing; in 1406 he began construction of what would become the Forbidden City.

This gold medallion, now in the Nanjing Municipal Museum, was buried in the tomb of Ma rui in 1627, during the reign of the Tianqi emperor (1621–1627).; it was discovered during a 1974 excavation near Nanjing. Mu Rui served as the Yongle emperor’s Vice Commissioner-in-Chief, but he was implicated in an attempted revolt. He died in prison in 1609. How did he obtain this plaque? In the forthcoming catalogue of the Asian Art Museum’s exhibition of Ming court arts, He Li offers an explanation:

A court record may provide a clue. In 1408, the Yongle emperor held a banquet to celebrate a successful battle against Annam, in which Mu Sheng was the chief commander (see cat. no. 103). The emperor is said to have awarded to the guest of honor, Mu Sheng, items including the emperor’s own handwritten poem, a jade belt, and a golden plaque (Mingshi, chap. 126, p. 7397); the latter was most likely the surviving medallion here. With the commands possibly engraved by Sheng, it must have been passed down as a family heirloom to later generations. Unfortunately, two hundred years later, its orders were sullied by Mu Rui. Eighteen years after his death, the family was able to conduct Mu Rui’s funeral. By burying the prestigious medallion with him, they announced the end of the legendary name of Mu, which had once been glorified for its support of the Ming court.

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Ming bling

21 April, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, early modern | By: xensen

ming dynasty lotus ornament from nanjing municipal museum

My mind has been on China’s Ming dynasty (1368–1644) recently because of the show of Ming dynasty court art that is coming up this summer at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. So let’s look at a few examples from this long-lasting dynasty (the last to be ruled by native Chinese).

Shown here is an ornament of nephrite and gold depicting a lotus pond, from the Nanjing Municipal Museum. Egrets and aquatic plants appear beneath two large lotus leaves. According to He Li, there is some uncertainty whether such ornaments, used as hat knobs during the previous Mongol Yuan dynasty, were repurposed during the Ming as covers for vessels.

According to Terese Tse Bartholomew, the combination of lotus and egret is a rebus, or visual pun, signifying a wish for advancement in the governmental meritocracy. This is because “egret” is pronounced lu and “lotus” lian; together the two words suggest yilu lianke, or “May you pass your [civil service] exams all the way.”

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Chinese botanical motifs: orchid

5 March, 2008 (05:00) | china, early modern, paintings | By: xensen

orchids, chiense brush painting by shitao

These leaves from Shitao’s album depict orchids, with an accompanying verse on the opposite page. Orchids are a popular subject for brush painting, in part thanks to their simple, rhythmic form. According to the Met’s entry on this object, “the calligraphy of the poem, in the manner of Zhong You, with its softly undulating strokes and gently rising and fading ink tones, simulates the swaying orchid leaves and blossoms.”

The best-known or at least longest-established orchid in China is the cymbidium (lanhua), which is noted more for its fragrance than its floral display. The opening lines of the verse, which quote the Classic of Songs, allude to this:

Words from a sympathetic heart
Are as fragrant as orchids

The orchid is regarded as a symbol of spring, and the verse goes on to develop this association.

Together with the plum, the chrysanthemum , and the bamboo, the orchid is known as one of the “four gentlemen of flowers.”

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Chinese botanical motifs: narcissus

3 March, 2008 (05:00) | china, early modern, paintings | By: xensen

narcissus by shitao

This image of a narcissus is from an album of twelve paintings and twelve caligraphic verses by Shitao (Zhu Ruoji; 1642–1707), a member of the Ming dynasty royal family, who became a monk-painter following the Manchu conquest of China in 1644. The painting, from the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Family Collection, Gift of Wen and Constance Fong, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Dillon, 1976 (1976.280), is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The album alternates landscapes and flowers, with verses in a similar brush style on facing pages.

I’d like to spend a few posts discussing botanical motifs in Chinese art. An authority, and my guide, on this subject is Terese Tse Bartholomew, curator emeritus of the Asian Art Museum. According to Bartholomew, the narcissus, which was imported to southern China from Europe at least by the Tang dynasty (618-906), is known as the “immortal of water” (shuixianhua). The xian in its name is the character that means “immortal,” so a clump of narcissus may be used to signify a group of immortals. For example, since the word for bamboo is a punfor “congratualte,” a clump of narcissus together with bamboo may signify “immortals congratulate you” (on a birthday, perhaps).

In the accompanying verse the narcissus is here associated with plum blossoms. Plums are a symbol of longevity, and the two plants together may suggest “May the immortals honor you with longevity.” Following is a free translation of the verse; for another versions, see the Met’s website.

Narcissus and plum blossoms,
enjoyable together,
vie for glory in winter;
I sit by my bright window,
holding my brush in my hand,
while my thoughts wander freely
far beyond the boundless shores

The narcissus is also a symbol of purity, good fortune, and prosperity. Because it is such an auspicious symbol, it is encouraged to bloom around the new year, and is often featured in new year’s celebrations.

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Monet’s Japanese print collection

23 November, 2007 (23:07) | early modern, japan, prints/photographs | By: xensen

cranes, by KorinN Ogata

Claude Monet was an avid collector of Japanese prints, constructing a collection that eventually totaled 231 prints. He acquired most of his prints through dealers in the Netherlands, favoring the artists Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro. He preferred landscapes , animals, and women engaged in daily activites. He showed little interest in flowers, scenes from the theater, and erotic art.

Monet was not a great traveler, and he never visited Japan. On one occasion he did travel to Norway, and wrote with enthusiasm of its resemblance to the Japan he knew from prints. Many of his prints were well chosen, such as this image of cranes by the artist Korin Ogata (1658-1716).

Monet’s collection can be viewed at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. There is more information on his collection here.

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