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Category: mediums

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: peanut

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

chinese painting, peanut

This late eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century painting by an anonymous Chinese artist is in the collections of the V&A in London. According to the V&A entry,it was probably commissioned from a Chinese artist by a European botanist, and it does have something of the precise quality of a European botanical painting. At the same time, it does not quite have a European sense of perspective.

In the Chinese tradition the peanut plant is associated with longevity. Its name, changsheng guo, sounds like the words for “Live forever and never grow old” (changsheng bulao). Moreover, the plant’s extensive root system suggests an impulse to survival. Eating the peanut fruit was thought to improve longevity.

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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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Nakahara Nantenbo Daruma

28 February, 2008 (05:00) | 20th c, japan, paintings | By: xensen

nakahara nantenbo daruma zen painting, 1912

Seven Junipers continues Daruma week with this bold image by Nakahara Nantenbo (1839-1925), which is more than five feet tall. The work was painted ni 1912. The thin lines outlining Bodhidharma’s face (which lacks a nose) contrast with the broad arc that suggests his robe in the most minimalist manner possible, as well as with the rough, energetic calligraphy. The arc of the robe is drawn with such force that it has splashed ink over Bodhidharma’s left ear, from which an earring hangs.

Nantenbo, the artist’s priest name — he was abbot of the Zen monastery of Myoshinji in Kyoto — derives from bo (staff) and nanten (a kind of tree), alluding to the staff with which he struck practitioners whose attention faltered.

The epigraph reads “A flower opens five petals and bears fruit — all in its nature.”

The work is in the collection of the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

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Soga Shokaku Daruma

27 February, 2008 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

daruma image by soga shohaku

Keeping on our Daruma theme, here is a standing version by the Kyoto painter Soga Shohaku (1730-1781). While Shohaku sometimes produced paintings of the greatest care and precision, he also worked in a freer style, as in this example.  Bodhidharma’s body is quickly outlined in broad strokes. His face, which turns back to the viewer, brings the painting alive through a few masterfully rendered strokes that produce a typically enigmatic expression.

Shohaku’s sprawling inscription informs us that the work was painted in a drunken state, and no doubt this contributed to the painting’ spontaneous quality. The attitude is consistent with a Zen value of freedom from restraint, which is seen in many eighteenth-century works from Kyoto. The painting is about four feet tall, and it was probably painted with a large straw brush.

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Yoshitoshi Daruma

27 February, 2008 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

daruma by yoshitoshi

Moving on with our Daruma week, here is an image by the great 19th-century printmaker Yoshitoshi. Yoshitoshi produced this woodblock print in 1887.

Yoshitoshi is famous for his images of ghosts, gruesome images, and battle scenes. As a result, like his near contemporaries Baudelaire and Poe, he has been dismissed as an artist of the macabre. In fact, he was a great artist who witnessed and chronicled the painful transition of Japan from a feudal to a modern society.

His Daruma is a somewhat rough-looking, battle-scarred fellow; there is a degree of weariness in his meditative post under the full moon.

Seikou Hirata Daruma

25 February, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, japan, paintings | By: xensen

daruma image by seikou hirata

This painting by Seikou Daruma, chief priest of Temryuji, is easily recognizable as a Daruma image. Japanese Daruma images typically use a minimum of brushwork and exaggerate what are thought of as Indian facial features. The quality of the figure’s expression is key. This one is a little unusual because most often Bodhidarma is depicted in profile or three-quarter view.

Photo by hira3, some rights reserved.

Zhan Wang reflections

20 February, 2008 (05:00) | china, contemporary, sculpture | By: xensen

Now that the Zhan Wang exhibit has opened at the Asian Art Museum, I amused myself by photographing reflected colors on the stainless steel surfaces of his massive artificial scholar’s rock. The stainless steel of the constructed rock itself has almost no color, but it reflects colors from its surroundings. Oddly, the metalic surface takes on some of the qualities of water. Here are small versions of several images.

zhan wang reflections

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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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Pots-and-pans-orama

11 February, 2008 (05:00) | china, contemporary, sculpture | By: xensen

zhan wang urban landscape, san francisco, in progress

At San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, Chinese artist Zhan Wang is constructing a replica of the city by the bay out of pots and pans. The shiny utensils, stacked by the artist on equally shiny platforms artfully constructed by the museum’s preparators to his specifications, are being arranged to represent the city down to a close level of detail. Here you can see the Transamerica pyramid constructed from cheese grates and salad tongs.

This photo shows the work in progress. It will be completed within the next day or so, and the exhibition, entitled On Gold Mountain: Sculptures from the Sierra by Zhan Wang, will open to the public on Friday, February 15. The title alludes to the Chinese immigrant experience of mining in the Sierra during the Frisco gold rush; the city, called Gold Mountain by the Chinese, was the staging area for the trek to the Sierra.

At this writing a detail of a stainless steel scholar’s rock by Zhan Wang can be seen in the right sidebar.

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Smoke on the Water

5 February, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, japan, literature/performance/film/music | By: xensen

On Thursday I showed a Japanese song performed on a Western instrument (the ukulele). Here now is Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” performed on traditional Japanese instruments.

This has got to be seen to be believed.

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via Book of Joe

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Sakura for Ukulele

31 January, 2008 (05:00) | japan, literature/performance/film/music | By: xensen

The ukulele began as a Portuguese instrument, which was taken up and modified in Hawaii. Now its popularity has spread worldwide. Outside Hawaii, nowhere is it more popular than in Japan. So I suppose it was inevitable that traditional Japanese songs would begin to be performed on ukes.

Earliest known oil paintings

29 January, 2008 (05:00) | ancient, paintings, west asia | By: xensen

oils paintings in bamiyan caves, afghanistanAccording to a group of Japanese, European, and U.S. scientists restoring damaged murals in caves in the Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley (famous for the stone Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban) the cave paintings reveal a sophisticated technique of oil painting.

More than a third of paint samples analyzed by the Getty Conservation Institute, using gas chromatography methods, reveal the presence of oils.

The development of viable techniques of oil painting has been attributed to the European Renaissance, but Buddhist images painted in the central Afghan region, dated to around 650 AD, are in fact the earliest examples of oil used in art history, according to Yoko Taniguchi, an expert at Japan’s National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Following is an excerpt from the Sri Lanka Daily News:

“It was very impressive to discover that such advanced methods were used in murals in central Asia,” Taniguchi said.

“My European colleagues were shocked because they always believed oil paintings were invented in Europe. They couldn’t believe such techniques could exist in some Buddhist cave deep in the countryside,” she added.

Painters of the Buddhist murals used organic substances — including natural resin, plant gum, dry oil and animal protein — as a binder, which even today is an important element in paint.

A binder keeps pigment particles together in a cohesive film and allows the paint to resist decay.

The researchers are trying to restore the murals amid international efforts to salvage what is left of Bamiyan.

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Bojagi

23 January, 2008 (05:00) | 20th c, decorative arts / textiles, korea | By: xensen

bojagi, korean wrapping cloth

Bojagi are Korean wrapping cloths. They are typically square and hemmed along the edges; many have a sort of ribbon “handle” in the center. The cloths were used for wrapping presents, as well as for storying and carrying objects. They are wonderful examples of folk art, and although they date at least from the Joseon dynasty, they feel modern in their design spirit.

This example is from the Museum of Korean Embroidery in Gangnam-gu. There is another example (at this writing) in the lower right sidebar.

Tribes of Burma

22 January, 2008 (05:00) | literature/performance/film/music, modern, southeast asia | By: xensen

tribes of burma: tai

This image is said to represent costumes of the Tai people of Burma, according to A Hand Painted Manuscript, in Color, of the Kaw, Lahu, Kwi, En, Ahko, Hpin, Tai-Loi, Yang Hsek, Palawng, Kachin, Wa Lu, Lem, Tai-no, Lisaw, Hkun and Tai tribes. Hand drawn, hand colored ethnographic manuscript showing people from various ethnic groups in Burma at their daily chores and in their native costume, ca. 1900. It has been slightly cleaned by BibliOdyssey, from which I have taken it; on that site several more examples are presented.

The manuscript comes from the South East Asia Digital Library at the Northern Illinois University Libraries, Special Collections. The paintings are charming in themselves, and also provide a valuable ethnological record.

BibliOdyssey notes “The 60th anniversary since Burma achieved independence from Britain passed by on 4 January 2008. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal to celebrate.”

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Auspicious Tree with Birds and Two Elephants

17 January, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, paintings, south asia | By: xensen

auspicious tree with birds and elephants

This painting comes from the region of Mithila in India, where domestic wall painting is traditionally practiced by village women on the occasion of marriages and festivals. Since the 1960s, thanks to an initiative launched by the Indian government, the women have also been painting on paper (and are sometimes now joined by men)

This is an image of an auspicious tree with colorful birds and two elephants (22 x 30 in.) The artist’s name is Nidhi, of whom I know nothing. I bought this painting from someone who had recently returned from the region. The elephants with their garland probably express a marriage motif. This image is rather unusual in Mithila painting.

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Related: an auspicious tree of life from a Mesoamerican context.

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Buddhist painting demonstration in San Francisco

16 January, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, korea, paintings | By: xensen

korean buddhist painting demonstration at the asian art museum of san francisco

At San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum a group of Korean monks has been in residency, producing large paintings and also block prints (visitors can take home freshly printed copies of the heart sutra or other prints). The monks (seunim, a gender-neutral term) include two men, Myung Chun-seunim and Sung Ryun-seunim, and a woman, Seol Min-seunim.

The program will culminate on January 20 with a sacred eye-opening ceremony of two hanging scrolls — the Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara by Seol Min seunim and a guardian figure painting by Myung Chung seunim — that the monks are donating to the museum. During the ceremony, the guardian king’s spirit enters the painting through the eyes, which are the last elements completed. The monks chant invocations to all the Buddhas in the universe to witness the event.

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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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