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Category: ceramics/metal/stone

Japanese cloisonné

7 April, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, japan, modern | By: xensen

japanese cloisonne vase

Cloisonné is a technique of decorative enameling. Sections of the object to be enameled are defined with wires and areas of color are laid down. The term comes from the French word cloisonner, to partition. Examples of Chinese cloisonné date as far back as the 1200s, I think; perhaps it originated in West Asia and spread along the Silk Road.

The development of cloisonné as a major art form in Japan is traditionally attributed to a daimyo artist named Kaji Tsunekichi of Nagoya in Owari Province (modern Aichi Prefecture), who deconstructed a Chinese example to analyze the technique. In part to satisfy Western demand after the opening of Japan, schools of cloisonné artists were producing large numbers of very fine examples by the end of the century. The period from 1880 to 1910 is sometimes called the golden age of Japanese cloisonné.

Shown is a lidded copper-body cloisonné enamel vase with a dragon motif from the collection of the V&A. Probably from Nagoya, it is dated to 1880-1890 (museum no. M.205-1917).

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Huge tomb find in China’s Shaanxi Province

2 April, 2008 (05:00) | ancient, ceramics/metal/stone, china | By: xensen

The discovery near Xi’an of a Qin Dynasty tomb group is believed to be the largest found in China; it comprises 604 tombs.

“I was astounded by the sheer number of tombs,” said Sun Weigang, a researcher with the Shaanxi Institute of Archaeological Research. “We know Shaanxi is rich in cultural relics, with over a thousand tombs unearthed every year. But we have never found so many in such a small area”.

Most of the tombs are of ordinary people and do not contain particularly valuable objects, but are of enormous interest to archeologists researching the social life of the period. A vast collection of pottery and bronze ware has been unearthed including cauldrons, pots, jars, axes and swords, as well as more than 200 complete human skeletons.

Archaeologists hope the discovery of the tombs will help them locate the site of the ancient Qin Dynasty city of Liyi.

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via Dream Art Gallery

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Neolithic sword found in Chongqing

15 January, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, neolithic | By: xensen

recent discovery: neolithic bronze chinese sword

Seven tombs dating to the Han dynasty were found in December in southwest China. Among the artifacts in the tombs were some very ancient objects, such as this bronze sword, apparently intended for ritual use, said to date from the Neolithic period.

I picked up this image and story from Dream Art Gallery. They have probably got it from a Chinese news report, but no credit is given, and I don’t know the original source.

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Tatsuzo Shimaoka, 1919-2007

3 January, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, contemporary, japan, modern | By: xensen

tatsuzo shimaoka

Japanese ceramics artist Tatsuzo Shimaoka died a few weeks ago of a stroke. He was a proponent of utilitarian pieces, or mingei (a term derived from minshuteki kogei, “craft of the people”). He was designated a “living national treasure” by the Japanese government in 1996.

In an article in Clay Times (November 2001), Richard Busch reports Shimaoka’s recollections of his developing interest in mingei and the apprenticeship process.

One day, at the age of 19 and a freshman at the Tokyo Industrial College, he wandered into the Nihon Mingeikan (Japanese Folk Crafts Museum), which had been started by Soetsu Yanagi and several friends, including potters Kanjiro Kawai, and Shoji Hamada, and was struck by the simple, unpretentious pots and other historical items that had been made by anonymous craftspeople for everyday use. It was a turning point in his life.

“Yanagi called these items the people’s craft or Mingei,” explains Shimaoka, “and he believed that they represent what is truly beautiful — not the highly refined work made by top artisans only for the wealthy few. He claimed that good craft must be convenient and comfortable to use because they are necessary every day. Mingei works must be durable, made in quantity, and affordable. Materials used must be natural and indigenous. At the basis of the Mingei philosophy lies the supposition that the craftsperson lives a healthy life, has a healthy mind, and is always sincere in the pursuit of utility.”

The philosophy hit the young Shimaoka hard. “When I was lost at what to do in the future,” he recalls, “Yanagi’s theory was like fertile rain on barren soil. With my mind decided, I went to Mashiko to visit Hamada, an alumnus of my college, and he agreed to accept me as an apprentice after I graduated. He told me that the basis of ceramics is the wheel, and advised me to learn how to throw pots on the wheel while in school. I did as I was told.”

After graduating from college, and following a stint in the Army during World War II (during which he spent time as a prisoner of war), he apprenticed with Hamada for three years. “In retrospect, those years studying under a great teacher were the basis for my career as a potter,” he says. “He would tell us apprentices to leave aside all that we had studied — as he had done when he left school — and to start with a new slate. Handmade work, he explained, is not to be learned by intellect, but with the body. Technique is not to be taught, but to ambitiously acquire.

“This is the traditional way master artisans always treated their apprentices, and how apprentices gained good craftmanship. I now understand that that was the most effective method for acquiring potting techniques. Today I always have a few apprentices in my house, including students from abroad. I teach them just the way Hamada tought me.”

The image is the main page from one of the artist’s exhibitions at Galerie Besson in London’s West End.

  • Left: Pot, 2005, stoneware with rope-inlay pattern 22.7 cm (h) x 18 cm x 13.9 cm
  • Right: Pot, 2005, stoneware with rope-inlay pattern, 26.4 (h) x 23.3 x 22.5 cm

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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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Glossary of Chinese ceramics: wucai

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

wucai covered jar

With this post I initiate a new series that will run here at 7 junipers intermittently over the next few months (as I find time to work on it). The goal of the series is to create a glossary of terms relating to Chinese ceramics and their glazes. The variety of glazes in traditional Chinese ceramics can cause confusion, which is compounded by an equal variety of foreign terms used to describe them.

I believe, therefore, that the best approach is to use the native terminology: words such as dehua rather than blanc de chine and qinghua rather than blue-and-white, for example.

The glossary will not go into great depth on any of the subjects but instead will aim at providing an introduction and a basis for further investigation. Perhaps it will be of some use to collectors or owners of traditional Chinese ceramics.

Let’s begin with wucai, a kind of ware that was especially popular in the early and middle Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The Chinese words can be translated literally as “five colors,” but in fact the number of colors can vary — the phrase “five colors” is applied loosely to convey the impression of multiple colors on such objects.

To produce wucai ware an underglaze of cobalt blue was laid down, and then three or more lower-fired, fairly pale, transparent enamels were painted on top of the glaze. This was a laborious process that required a second firing. The overglaze colors were applied in more or less equal proportions so that no one color dominated.

Wucai colors tend to be bright and flat (rather than gradated). Ming wucai typically combines underglaze blue with red and yellow or red and green. During the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) a more varied palette was developed. The use of underglaze blue gradually gave way to blue overglaze enamel, the enamel colors became more opaque (yielding stronger yellows and greens), and underglaze blue was used as an outline for solid opaque enamel masses of color. Qing dynasty wucai may also employ black to define outlines, and may include gold decoration.

Shown is a covered jar decorated with goldfish and aquatic plants, Ming dynasty, reign of the Jiajing emperor (1522-1566). Porcelain with overlay enamels, H: 46 cm. National Museum of Chinese History, Beijing.

Fish appear frequently as a decorative motif in Chinese art. The Chinese word for “fish” (yu) is a pun for “abundance” (yu), so fish are an common auspicious symbol in Chinese art.

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Image source: http://www.saturn-soft.net/Gallery/Gallery1/China1/menu.htm

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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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Jades analysis indicates lively ancient sea trade

10 December, 2007 (05:00) | ancient, ceramics/metal/stone, china, southeast asia | By: xensen

ancient feng tian jade

A Reuters story by Tan Ee Lyn reports on an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. According to the report, an international team of scientists performed X-ray spectrometer analysis of 144 jade ornaments in museums in southeast Asia. The jades were thought to date from 3000 BCE to 500 CE. The analysis determined that at least 116 of the jades were made from stone that originated in Fengtian in eastern Taiwan. Fengtian jade is typically a translucent green mottled with dark spots.

The article quotes lead researcher Hung Hsiao-chun, who noted that one of the Fengtian jades found in the Philippines dates to 2000 BCE:

There was a very huge workshop in Fengtian, dating back to 3,000 BC. Before, researchers thought all the jade in the Philippines was from China or Vietnam. With our analysis … we found that most of the ornamental jade in the Philippines was from Taiwan…. Their seafaring methods must have been very superior, even back then.

Shown is an ancient Fengtian nephrite earring unearthed in the Philippines. The image is from ABC News in Science, where the source is listed as PNAS/Yoshiyuki Iizuka.

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.

Seven Junipers plays the net

21 November, 2007 (21:44) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, contemporary, meta, sculpture | By: xensen

terra-cotta tennis players

The internet, that is.

What could be a more appropriate image for our inaugural post than these ironic echoes of the first emperor’s terra-cotta army. The tennis warriors are in the offices of el blogador, a digital media consultant who divides his time between London and Antigua, Guatemala. They were created for the ATP Masters Cup being held in Shanghai (in fact, just as each of the first emperor’s soldiers has an individual face, so Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are recognizable in these images). The artist is not identified.

For 7Junipers I intend to range freely over Asian art and culture, from ancient to contemporary times and across the entire continent. Art and literature will be my main subjects. Since I’m already stretched thin, I’ll probably move somewhat slowly on this, but as posts accumulate I will gather them into categories by culture, era, and medium. The globe on right can be clicked to visit particular regions (not much is up yet).

The title alludes to the seven junipers of Zhidao Guan, a Taoist temple in the city of Changshu in China’s Yangzi delta, as well as to a famous 16th-century painting of them by Wen Zhengming. The seven junipers also represent the seven large cultural regions that fall under the scope of this website. For more, see the “about” tab above.