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Category: medieval

Photo Wednesday: Shravanabelagola

6 July, 2016 (12:27) | ceramics/metal/stone, medieval, south asia | By: xensen

Gommateshvara Bahubali, Shravanabelagola

Gommateshvara Bahubali , Shravanabelagola.

This image from the Indian city of Shravanabelagola (about 160 km km from Bangalore), is from cotaro70‘s photostream. The city is home to an enormous late 10th-century statue of statue of Gomma?e?vara Bahubali. Bahubali, who is said to have meditated motionless in a standing position for a year, is a revered figure in Jainism, and the site is an important Jain pilgrimage center.

 

Nandi

12 March, 2013 (07:00) | medieval, sculpture, south asia | By: xensen

Nandi - Asian Art Museum - P3120420

 

Nandi the bull is the mount of the Hindu god Shiva. I took this photo at the Asian Art Museum, where, unfortunately, the bull is less prominently displayed than it was at the museum’s old location in Golden Gate Park.

A few garlands would help. The museum’s label informs us that

In southern India, a large sculpture of Nandi would usually be placed in front of the main sanctuary of a temple to Shiva. It would face toward the sanctuary, so that Nandi could gaze adoringly at the representation of his master enshrined there. Because of this orientation, worshippers entering the temple compound would approach the sculpture of Nandi from behind.

Here Shiva’s bull is decked with garlands, strings of bells, an elaborate blanket, and other decorations carved in the stone. In the temple, it would also have been wreathed in real flowers and fabrics.

Still, Nandi remains much beloved, and this massive statue 15th-century granite statue is readily accessible in the museum’s south court, where it is well worth a visit.

 

The Portland Ganesha

17 February, 2009 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, medieval, south asia | By: xensen

Portland Art Museum Ganesha

Yesterday the Portland Art Museum unveiled a recent purchase: an eleventh-century stone Ganesha from northeastern India.

The Portland Ganesha is shown seated in the posture of “royal ease,” with one knee raised. His rat mount looks up from below, a wisdom bearer (vidyadhara) reaches down from above with a garland of flowers. One of Ganesha’s hands is held in the gesture of reassurance, while the others hold various objects.

How was this object removed from India? No one seems sure.

Read more »

Photo Wednesday: Borobudur

23 July, 2008 (05:00) | medieval, sculpture, southeast asia | By: xensen

Standing Bodhisattva

18 July, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, medieval | By: xensen

standing bodhisattva, walters art museum, baltimore

While we’re at the Walters Art Museum (see the previous couple of posts), let’s check out this interesting Boddhisattva. As you can see from this detail, the enigmatically smiling figure has an oddly square face and jaw, with very wide eyes. Features such as these, along with the drapery on the shoulders, lead the Walters curators to suppose that it may have been made in what is today Shaanxi province, in the sixth century.

Standing Bodhisattva, 6th century. China, Shaanxi province. Limestone. Acquired by Henry Walters, 1920, 25.5.

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Ganesha

16 July, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, medieval, south asia | By: xensen

Dancing Ganesha

14 July, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, medieval, south asia | By: xensen

dancing ganesha from the collection of the walters art museum, baltimore

Here’s another great dancing Ganesha. This one is in the collection of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. From Uttar Pradesh, it dates from the ninth or tenth century. I took this photo of a detail of the sculpture when I was visiting Baltimore recently. The label includes this charming commentary:

Like his father [Shiva], Ganesha combines opposing traits: he is a leader of Shiva’s troops, but he is also lovable (there is a bowl of sweets beneath the tip of his trunk). He dances in imitation of his father’s cosmic dance. Ganesha became the lord of beginnings for Hindus and is prayed to at the start of an endeavor. [See early posts on this blog.] Images such as this one were placed in the southern exterior niche of a temple, to be encountered first in a ritual walk around the outside of a temple.

Dancing Ganesha, 9th-10th century, India: Uttar Pradesh, sandstone, gift of John and Bertha Fora, 2004, 25-253.

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Conical fritware bowl from thirteenth-century Iran

5 May, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, medieval, west asia | By: xensen

iranian fritware conical bowl

This is a spread from the book I am working on on Persian ceramics from the collection of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (I’m still waiting for final text). The object is a fritware conical bowl painted with “panel style” decoration in underglaze blue and black manganese (The Avery Brundage Collection, B60P1893).

Firt is a ground glasslike substance (I think potash and quartz were the main ingredients) that, added to clay, reduces its firing temperature, which is helpful for applying overglazes. It was used in West Asian pottery to produce a fine white base that imitated the quality of Chinese porcelain.

The bowl dates from the first half of the thirteenth century, and, according to the curators, may be from Kashan in Iran. Poetic verses in white on the black areas express longing for the absence of a beloved.

Photos by Kaz Tsuruta.

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Year of the Rat

12 February, 2008 (05:00) | china, medieval, paintings | By: xensen

rat painting by chinese ming dynasty emperor xuande

The Xuande emperor ruled China from 1425-1434. He was the fifth emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). His rule was one of relative stability, and he devoted much of his time to painting and writing poetry, activities at which he was accomplished. As a painter he had a free brush style. His paintings were often presented as gifts to favored members of the court; this painting, dated 1431, of a rat nibbling at lichee fruit is inscribed to a favorite eunuch.

2008 is the year of the rat in the Chinese calendrical zodiac. In the Chinese tradition the rat is regarded as clever, charming, and industrious, but also a bit of a schemer, who can at times be ambitious, selfish, and cruel. First among the signs of the Chinese zodiac — it is said that when the zodiac animals were crossing a river rat rode on the back of ox and jumped off his head just as they reached zhore, thus establishing his priority — people born in the year of the rat are leaders and innovators.

A rat year, although it may have have associations with death, is one of opportunity, especially in business. It is also a good year for socializing and enjoying food and the company of family.

Particularly in combination with many-seeded fruits (the seeds suggesting offspring), the rat is associated with fertility, and an image of rat and fruit, such as the Xuande emperor’s painting shown here, implies a wish for many offspring. What a strange gift to present to a eunuch!

The work is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.

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The Samurai are coming

24 January, 2008 (05:00) | japan, medieval | By: xensen

medieval samurair armor (yoroi) from the metropolitan museum, new york

2008-2009 is shaping up as the year of the Samurai in U.S. museums. The Met will show the first comprehensive exhibition devoted to the arts of the samurai from October 21, 2008, through January 11, 2009. The exhibition is being co-organized with the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan.

Then, in June, on the left coast, the Asian Art Museum will host its own Samurai show. This show will feature objects drawn from the collections of the Hosokawa family, including works from the Eisei-Bunko Museum in Tokyo, the Kumamoto Municipal Museum, and the Kumamoto Castle in Kyushu.

Companion books will accompany both shows. It will be interesting to see how the two exhibitions complement each other.

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Shown: Armor (yoroi), early 14th century. Japan, Late Kamakura period. Lacquered iron and leather, silk, stenciled leather, gilt copper; H. (as mounted) 37 1/2 in. (95.25 cm) W. 22 in. (55.88 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Bashford Dean, 1914 (14.100.121b–e)

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Glossary of Chinese ceramics: sancai

2 January, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, medieval, modern | By: xensen

sancai plate

Sancai wares were low-fired lead-glazed ceramics with color decorations. The colors were mixed to produce a great variety of shades. According to He Li, the colors and decorative patterns of sancai ware were influenced by Central Asian textiles.

Sancai literally means “three colors,” just as wancai, the last glaze we looked at, means “five colors.” As in the case of wancai, however, the term should not be understood literally – three-color sancai do predominate, but two- and four-color glazes may also be termed sancai. Common colors were green, yellow, and white, and common coloring agents were iron, copper, and manganese compounds. Sancai wares were first fired at 1000ºC., and then refired with the glaze at about 900ºC. Sometimes a white slip was applied before the decorations were added in order to produce clearer final result.

Sancai is usually associated with Tang dynasty wares, but the technique was equally popular during the Song. The style spread west along the Silk Road and east to Korea and Japan. In China it enjoyed a revival during the Ming dynasty.

Sancai was employed in animal forms (especially camels, horses, and dogs), often created as funerary pieces, as well as various types of vessels and other articles of daily use. Objects such as alms bowls, incense burners, and candlestick holders probably had ceremonial uses. Sancai wares were also popular trade and tribute items.

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Shown: Sancai Plate, 907-1125, Manchuria, Khitan Liao Dynasty, Musée Guimet (via wikipedia)

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Isfandiyar struggles with the simurgh

20 December, 2007 (05:00) | literature/performance/film/music, medieval, west asia | By: xensen

Isfandiyar struggles with the simurgh

Isfandiyar is one of the heroes of the great Persian epic the Shahnama, or “Book of Kings” by Firdawsi. The image above is from a 1330 edition. The legendary bird the Simurgh figures prominently in the story.

The Simurgh is always represented as female. Although not depicted so in this image, she was often shown with the head of a dog, and sometimes with the claws of a lion. She was very large — large enough to carry off an elephant. The Simurgh was sometimes said to live at the top of the tree of life and to have seen the creation and destruction of the world three times. She represented the union between the earth and the sky, and was charged with purifying the waters of the earth.

When the albino prince Zal was abandoned by his parents, the Simurgh nurtured him. Later Zal returned to human society and married a woman named Rudaba. In due course she became pregnant, but her labor was difficult. Zal summoned the Simurgh, who performed a cesarean section with her claws. The baby who was born was Rostam, the national hero of Persia.

Later in the story, Rostam and Isfandiyar engaged in combat. Rostam had the worst of the encounter, because Isfandiyar had immersed himself in a magical water that made one invulnerable. Again summoned, the Simurgh healed Rostam and advised him that Isfandiyar had kept his eyes shut while immersed in the magic water, and Rostam was able to defeat him by shooting an arrow through his eye.

In an alternate episode from the story, however, Isfandiyar kills the Simurgh (or perhaps a different Simurgh) as part of one of a series of heroic labors. This is the scene depicted here.

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Buddha’s-hand citron

17 December, 2007 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, medieval, modern | By: xensen

jade buddha;s hand citron

This nephrite object from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) may be my favorite jade from the collections of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (the image is from the “search the collection” feature on the AAM website).

This lemonlike citron (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus) is not usually eaten (although the rind may be candied and is sometimes used for zest), but it’s fragrant and said to have some medical qualities. It is said that the fragrance of a single fruit can perfume a room for weeks.

According to Flavor and Fortune, “Gary Palm of The Mission Inn in Riverside, California chops up pieces of rind to add a slightly bitter citrus tinge to fish marinades. Lindsey Shere, pastry chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California uses the candied peel in Italian desserts, such as pane forte. Allan Susser of Chef Allen’s in Adventura, Florida bakes pieces of candied rind in biscotti; it adds flavor that he describes as “kumquat-tangerine,” distinct from the more lemony flavor of regular citrus.”

Traditionally, the fruit was prized by the Chinese for its resemblance to a hand with the fingers outstretched. The buddha’s-hand citron was a popular plant motif in the art of the Ming dynasty. Besides its association with the Buddha the plant suggested wealth because of its resemblance to an outstretched hand. It remains popular at New Year’s and is said to bestow good fortune. Below are some thumbnails of images.

buddha's hand citron thumbnailsbuddha's hand citron thumbnails

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Dancing Ganesha

11 December, 2007 (05:00) | medieval, sculpture, south asia | By: xensen

dancing ganesha from the State Archaeology Museum of IndiaHere’s an interesting dancing Ganesha for comparison with the one from the Asian Art Museum shown at right. Both works are from the tenth century. This one, now in the State Archaeology Museum of India, comes from Padhawal, Morena. The Ganeshas wear similar crowns, are surrounded by similar implements, and hold similar poses. The most obvious difference is in the positions of the legs. While the Asian Art Museum Ganesha leans at a jaunty sideways angle, this one is coiled in a complicated, dynamic pose, his weight more centered.

Ganesha is generally considered to be the son of Shiva and Parvati. There are several stories of how he got his elephant head. Most commonly, it is said that he was beheaded by Shiva, who then in remorse replaced his head with that of an elephant.

Despite his stocky form and big belly, Ganesha often dances. He is carefree and cheerful, yet he is also a patron of scholars and students. It is not difficult to image lively music inspiring this Ganesha to dance.

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Prajnaparamita

5 December, 2007 (05:00) | medieval, sculpture, southeast asia | By: xensen

prajnaparamita of java

Yestersay I attended a lecture by Natasha Reichle, the Asian Art Museum’s associate curator of southeast Asian art, on the subject of this beautiful 13th-century stone sculpture from Singhasari, East Java. Prajnaparamita is a term meaning wisdom or learning, one might almost say scholarship. The goddess is the embodiment of of transcendental wisdom.

The sculpture is nearly symmetrical, except for the lotus at the right in the image, which holds a book of sutras, and the hands in the center, which are in the form of the gesture of “wheel-turning,” that is, the turning of the wheel of the dharma, representing the Buddha’s teachings.

Most Javanese view the sculpture as a representation not of Prajnaparamita but of Ken Dedes, the beautiful woman who gave birth to the fateful Singhasari (1222–1292) and Majapahit (1293–1500) dynasties.

The race to save the Mogao frescoes

4 December, 2007 (05:00) | china, classical, himalayas, medieval, paintings, sculpture | By: xensen

bodhisattva image from mogao grottoes at dunhuang, china

The Mogao grottoes at Dunhuang in China are one of the world’s richest art treasures. Dunhuang, though far from the center of Chinese civilization, was a key stop on the Silk Road. The Silk Road was not only a trade route for merchandise, it was also the route by which Buddhism was introduced to China, and Dunhuang is home to nearly 500 caves that served as Buddhist temples. The cave-temples are full of thousands of murals and sculptures, created between the fourth and fourteenth centuries.

For centuries the region’s remoteness and arid climate preserved that artworks is good condition. But today, according to this report, the murals are “fading away from age, tourist pressures and climate change.” The report goes on to describe efforts to photograph and preserve the art works.

restroing the mogao grotto frescos at dunhuang

A race is on to arrest the deterioration of the UN World Heritage site, which occupies 492 different cave temples along a 1.6-kilometre (one-mile) long cliff face near the ancient Silk Road oasis town of Dunhuang.

That decline has accelerated in recent years due in large part to desertification caused by climate change, said Wang Xudong, head of the Dunhuang Academy, the state-run institution that studies and maintains the grottoes.

More-frequent sandstorms from the nearby Kumtag desert are upsetting the fragile environmental balance inside the caves.

“Our biggest challenge is protecting the interior environment of the caves, especially from sandstorms, which are the biggest risk here,” he said.

But it’s a complex and painstaking task.

“Each cave has its own unique mineral, temperature, and moisture situation. We have to treat each one differently. We are learning every day,” Wang said.

The top image of a bodhisattva appears in a Tantric Buddhist painting in Cave 14. Dating from the Tang dynasty (618–906), it probably reflects a Tibetan influence; Dunhuang was under Tibetan rule during a some of the Tang. The second image accompanied the news article; I have done a little restoration work of my own on it.

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Haein-sa Temple

23 November, 2007 (09:35) | korea, literature/performance/film/music, medieval | By: xensen

haein-sa temple, korea

Haein-sa Temple is located in Hapchon County, North Kyongsang Province, Korea. It is home to the most complete set of woodblocks of the Buddhist Tripitaka, the canon of Buddhist scriptures. (Tripitaka means “three baskets.” It refers to the conventional division of the scriptures into the sutras, or teachings of the Buddha; the vinaya, or precepts for community members; and the abhidharma, or commentaries.) The Tripitaka Koreana consists of 81,258 blocks (comparable to nearly 7,000 printed volumes), containing more than 52 million characters.

Korea was a leader in print technology from early times. Koreans invented and employed moveable metal type long before Gutenberg. In my article at rightreading.com called “Gutenberg and the Koreans,” I argue that awareness of East Asian printing processes may well have reached Europe during the early renaissance (thanks to the Mongol empire, which connected the two areas). The article is schedule for publication in Arts of Asia magazine in 2008.
The image above is from Discover Korea. For more images and a brief description of the temple and the blocks, see this Granite School page.

Two ewers

23 November, 2007 (07:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, medieval, west asia | By: xensen

two ewers

These two bird-headed ewers are both in the collections of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. I found them by searching the museum’s on-line collection database. Both ewers are currently on display in the museum’s loggia, but they will be taken down in a few weeks to make way for a display of Chinese ceramics.

On the left is a glazed earthenware object from China’s Tang dynasty (618-906). The glazed earthenware object on the right was produced in present-day Iran several centuries later (1200-1250). A lively trade along the Silk Road resulted in artistic influences being carried in both directions between East Asia and West Asia.

The museum will publish a catalogue of its Persian ceramics in June 2008.

Photos by Kaz Tsuruta.