W e l c o m e T o T h e Y e a r O f T h e R o o s t e r
In Asian cultures the rooster is the epitome of fidelity and punctuality. For ancestors without alarm clocks, the crowing was significant. The rooster also alerted citizens when foreigners or enemies were approaching the city gate.
C h i n e s e G l a z e s, D e c o r a t i o n s, A n d C o l o u r s
There is so much confusion about Chinese glazes, methods of decoration, color applications, shapes, forms, kiln sites, and the terminology we use in the West. I thought I should start to highlight some of the terms that I find not infrequently on pieces walking into my office. I diligently follow A Dictionary of Chinese Ceramics, by Wang Qingzheng.
Let’s start with some of the major glazes used on Chinese ceramics:
Apple green — ping guo lu — a kiln mutation of peachbloom; mottled green with traces of pink.
Black glaze — hei you — first used in Eastern Han and then Song. You will find black glazes in the black tea bowls of Ding kilns in Hebei; the Jian kilns in Fujian and the Jizhou kilns in Jiangxi. The Japanese call this highly appreciated glaze temmoku.
Bright blue glaze — ji qing — used for highfired wares during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Bright red glaze — ji hong — used during the Hongwu reign/Ming dynasty as underglaze red. And also used during Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong/Qing periods.
Clair-de-lune — tian lan you — high fired light blue glaze, mainly found during Kangxi and Yongzheng. Crackle glaze — wen pian and kai pian — can be large or small crackle; originally used in a controlled fashion during the Song period but one can find it on earlier wares; is accomplished by manipulating heat in kiln to achieve different shrinking rates of body and glaze during cooling period. The Chinese have many different types and names for the crackle pattern: ice pattern, fish roe pattern, crab claw’s markings, hundred fragments, coarse and fine crackle, prunus blossom crackle, rabbit’s hair, and ox hair. The most famous crackle can be seen in the Ru, Ge and Guan wares and these types of crackle were often imitated during the Qing period as a way to pay respect to these earlier wares.
Celadon glaze — this is a term we use in the West — glaze is achieved with iron oxide glaze fired in a reducing atmosphere kiln that produces a range of colors from blue, to green, to yellow, blue-green, olive, grey-green. Longquan celadons were produced in many kilns in Longquan in southwestern Zhejiang province. Most of the pieces I see date from the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). Many Lungquan pieces were exported all over Southeast Asia and I often see these export celadons.There is also Yaozhou celadon, produced in Shaanxi Province, different patterns and colors from Lungquan celadon, although I do not see much Yaozhou.
Remember that Korea also produced and still produces great celadon, with and without inlay. Thailand also had celadon wares from kilns in and around Sisatchanalai (Sawankhalok kilns) and Sukhothai. Manymoons ago I imported the new and very well made celadons from the Mengrai kilns in Chiengmai.
J a p a n e s e L a c q u e r w a r e
Lacquer has been used in Japan to coat objects — initially for preservation, and later for decoration — for about fifteen hundred years.
The lacquer process is very complex and time consuming. Each layer of lacquer must be applied, cured to make it hard, and then polished before this step can be repeated with many more layers. For luxurious objects this may take months or a year.
Here are merely a few of the many different lacquer techniques and terms the Japanese artist employs:
Raw lacquer is harvested as sap from the Rhus verniciflua, a tree related to poison sumac. Urushi (漆) is the milky white latex-like sap of the lacquer tree which is exuded when the bark is cut off the tree and which consists of urushiol, water, gum, a nitrogenous element, and oil.
The special art of Japanese lacquer incorporates pictorial images, often with the help of gold and silver sprinkled onto the damp lacquer to create a pattern. The lacquer acts as an adhesive to these metal particles. Esoteric as well as utilitarian objects were thus turned into precious objects.
Maki-e (gold lacquer picture, 蒔絵) : designs are created with gold flecks — in the form of metal or pigment powder — often sprinkled with a screen to create a design. Maki-e can be flat gold (hira maki-e), polished-out (togidashi maki-e) or raised gold (taka maki-e).
Hira maki-e (平蒔絵) : the design is created using urushi and raw lacquer which is then coated with gold powder.
In the technique of togidashi maki-e (研ぎ出し蒔絵) : black lacquer without oil is put on the metal decoration as an additional coat.
Taka maki-e (raised maki-e, 高蒔絵) : involves building up design patterns above the surface through a mixture of metal powder, lacquer and charcoal or clay dust.
Shibayama : zaiku or lacquer is a technique in which thin flakes of ivory, animal horn or shell, often painted in various colors, and with incised design motifs, are inlaid on the surface of a lacquer object.
Negoro : nuri lacquer is a type of hana-nuri technique where the final finish is with red lacquer over a black lacquer undercoating.
Nashiji : technique whereby irregular shaped fine gold dust is applied.
Rade : inlaid decoration as it refers to lacquer.
Chinkin-bori : technique where a pattern is engraved in fine lines into the lacquer surface which is then rubbed with gold.
Kamakura-bori : is made by carving patterns in wood, and then lacquering it with layers of red, blue, yellow and other colors before polishing it.
Ban-e : a circular design in lacquer.
I-kakeji : densely sprinkled gold ground of lacquer decoration.
Roiro-Nuri : application of glossy black lacquer.
Japanese lacquer has been admired and collected for centuries, but it is only recently that 20th century Japanese lacquer art has attracted more attention. I just read an article about Takahashi Setsuro (1914-2007) who used many new and contemporary forms for his lacquer art, in addition to the more traditional screens and boxes. Takahashi was a painter and a poet and a lacquer artist. The Museum for Lacquer Art (Museum für Lackkunst) in Müster, Germany has a splendid exhibition of his traditional and non-traditional works of art. Let me know if you want to read this article.
J a p a n e s e P o c k e t s
Traditional Japanese garments do not have pockets, so a variety of remedies were created to fasten items to the garments.
Inro (印籠) : A small container, made of several sections, perfectly fitted on top of each other so that the different sections are barely noticeable. They were made of many materials, however, wood decorated with different lacquer techniques was the most common and sought after. Inro were carried on the right hip, suspended from the obi with a double silk cord attached to a netsuke. The ojime held the cords together just below the obi. Inro have been worn for several centuries and were originally a two compartment box used to hold seals and ink pad — stored at home. During the Edo period, inro turned into a portable version, with several compartments, used as medicine boxes. The different sections are held together with cords that pass through the himotoshi — the holes in each section. The cords then end at the bottom of the inro in a knot, and are fastened with the ojime at the top. Many celebrated artists produced inro. Samurai were allowed to wear inro.
Netsuke (根付) : A miniature carving made of a large variety of materials, including wood, ivory, bone, metal, which serves as a counter weight or toggle to hold the string attached to the inro or tobacco pouch or purse, and is worn suspended from the obi. During the Edo period (1615-1812), especially during the 18th century, netsuke carving reached a high point — it then declined during the 19th century when netsuke were no longer widely used — especially after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. However, there are still master netsuke carvers in Japan today who produce highly collectible and expensive netsuke.
The broad categories for netsuke are:
katabori-netsuke (sculpture netsuke,形彫根付) : figural netsuke carved in the round, normally about 3″ high;
anabori-netsuke (hollowed netsuke, 穴彫根付) : carved with a hollow center like the clam netsuke;
sashi-netsuke (literally “stab” netsuke, 差根付) : about 6″ long, seen in long fish netsuke;
obi-hasami sashi-netsuke : another elongated netsuke but with a curved bottom;
men-netsuke (mask netsuke, 面根付) : often in the shape of noh masks;
manju-netsuke (饅頭根付) : flat, round and thick netsuke, often done in relief carving and sometimes made of two halves;
ryusa-netsuke (柳左根付) : shaped similar to manju but carved in pierced fashion;
kagamibuta-netsuke (mirror lid netsuke, 鏡蓋根付) : of manju shape but with an often elaborately decorated metal disc fitted as a lid over the ivory part of the netsuke.
Ojime (cord fastener, 緒締め) : A small sliding bead, made from a variety of materials such as bone, ivory, wood, lacquer, jade, through which are passed the silken cords used to suspend an inro, tobacco pouch or money purse — once worn by Japanese men. Ojime beads can be intricately decorated and can be in the shape of animal or human figures.
Sagemono (提物) : These are containers suspended from the obi. Originally, fire-making tools were carried in these pouches. The kinchaku (money pouches) came into use later, first made of leather and then of decorated brocade. At first, the sagemono were attached to the sword hilt. The most common sagemono was the inro when it was used to store a seal and ink pad in a two compartment container.