Archive for the 'China' Category

Object: Bronze Incense Burner

Accession: E/1955/18/139

Name: Bronze Incense Burner

Location: Asia: Dynastic China

Date: Dynastic China

Materials: Bronze

Key Terms: Incense, Burner, Bronze, Dynastic China

This bronze incense burner from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History is a three-piece artifact dating back to Dynastic China. The base consists of an elephant with three attachments that sit on top of the back of the elephant; the top tier is missing, however, there are holes on the top attachment of the elephant where this piece would connect. The burner stands 24” high when assembled. It is made from bronze and each piece is hand painted in multi-color designs, including light blue, dark blue, teal, light green, dark green, purple, yellow and white. The incense burner was used to burn incense as remnants of this process are evident because you can hear the remaining fragments moving around inside the elephant as you lift the object. There is also proof of aging in the form of green discoloration on the insides of the attached tears as well as the top of the elephant, which is a result of the bronze oxidizing.

 

The period of the Shang and Zhou dynasties is generally known as the Bronze Age in China. During this time in China rituals that centered on incense burners like this one had an important social function, because these were so important for creating societal cohesion. Since these rituals were so valued most objects used were made from bronze, which represented the superior sectors of society, as bronze was highly valued. Therefore, the material used to create this burner leads us to its cultural significance, as bronze burners are the most precious. The rituals this burner was used in became increasingly religious over time and were used to communicate with gods, spirits, and deceased ancestors. [1, 3]

Shang_Dynasty_1600_BC_-_1046_BC

Map courtesy of Arab Hafez licensed by CC-BY

Although we cannot pinpoint the exact date this incense burner was created, I am led to believe that it was likely constructed sometime during the Bronze Age (Shang and Zhou dynasties). Research shows that excavated Han Dynasty tombs had depictions of incense burners and elephants, therefore, the significance of these symbols in this culture was created before the Han Dynasty. This incense burner was likely to have been constructed in the orange/yellow region of the map on the right because that is where bronze paraphernalia used for rituals was being created at the time of the Bronze Age. The remnants found in incense burners excavated from tombs also prove that China was engaged in the global economy through international trading at the time these burners were being used because some of the spices found in the remnants were not grown in China. [2]

 

These burners were historically used to burn incense and spices for religious purposes and are contemporarily used for the same reasons; however, the religious symbolism has evolved over time. Earliest documented scent culture emphasizes simplicity and the belief that complex aromas were inherently suspicious because of the extravagance the original purity of virtues is lost. The original simple scents and spices used were intentionally unpleasant to avoid the corruption the pleasant but complex scents were thought to bring. Over time a change occurred and the idea of antique simplicity died off. Today, diverse incense and spices are used in combination with different religious ceremonies or rituals. [3]

 

The authenticity of this bronze incense burner is affirmed in its physical structure and visual signs of aging. Feet elevate the burner above the table surface, which is a requirement of an authentic incense burner, as without them the object would not be able to function correctly. The green discoloration on the top of the elephant also exemplifies its age as bronze greens from oxidation. This burner was undoubtedly handmade as the intricate designs that appear throughout the artifact are hand painted. Although the process for molding these bronze burners may be derivative, I would assert that these designs are unique to this particular burner, and exemplify the maker’s creativity and originality. The time put in to paint this complex design on such valued material denotes the importance of this object. [4]

 

((Kayla Grudzielanek))- Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Works Cited:

  1. Department of Asian Art. “Shang and Zhou Dynasties: The Bronze Age of China.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. 2004, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shzh/hd_shzh.htm.
  2. Kim, Minku. “CLAIMS OF BUDDHIST RELICS IN THE EASTERN HAN TOMB MURALS AT HORINGER: Issues in the Historiography of the Introduction of Buddhism to China.” Ars Orientalis, 44, 2014, pp. 134-154., http://www.jstor.org/stable/43489801.
  3. Milburn, Olivia. “Aromas, Scents, and Spices: Olfactory Culture in China before the Arrival of Buddhism.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 136, no. 3, July 2016, pp. 441-464., http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7817/jameroriesoci.136.3.0441.
  4. Stone, Elizabeth Rosen. “A Buddhist Incense Burner from Gandhara.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, 39, 2004, pp. 69-99., http://www.jstor.org/stable/40034602.

Picture:

“Ancient Chinese Dynasties: Advancements and Achievements.” Ancient Chinese Dynasties: Advancements and Achievements – The Zhou Dynasty, anchientchinesedynasties.weebly.com/the-zhou-dynasty.html.

E/1955/18/139 in the Sam Noble Museum Ethnology Collection

 

Additional Reading:

Maguer, Sterenn Le. “Typology of Incense-Burners of the Islamic Period.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, vol. 41, July 2010, pp. 173-185., http://www.jstor.org/stable/41622131.

 

Object: Porcelain Figure

Object: Porcelain Figure

Accession Number: E/1955/18/029

Object: 8 ⅝” porcelain statue of Kuan Yin, goddess of compassion

Location: China, Qing Dynasty

Date: 1736-1795

Materials: Porcelain

Keywords: China, porcelain, figure, statue

   

The woman in the figure is Kuan Yin, goddess of compassion and perseverance whose name literally means “She Who Hears the Cries of the World.” The statue was created during the Qing Dynasty in China anywhere from 1736-1795 [2]. It is only 8 ⅝ inches tall, and the coloring is an off-white shade of cream that is made of molded porcelain. The figure depicts her with a soft facial expression, flowers in her hair, and an extravagant dress with long, curly accents and intricate beading that connects a series of medallions. She is also barefoot and standing on a fish with very long whiskers. The artifact seems to have been used to display and honor the bodhisattva, Kuan Yin, and summon her powers of compassion, perseverance, focus, and inspiration into their daily lives.

During the 18th century China when the porcelain figure was made, the Chinese were trying to embrace a new dynasty under the Qing-long emperor. Qing was determined to separate himself from the previous rule and undertook many reconstruction projects to build Tibetan-style temples and wanted citizens to embrace a new capital city other than Beijing [3]. He even went as far as persecuting those who spoke against him [3]. He wanted to be a Buddhist ruler, and perhaps his extra push and his new way of ruling inspired people to delve deeper into their Buddhist practices and utilize idols like Kuan Yin. Her use in modern culture is present in the LGBTQ community in the United States where members find her qualities of compassion and perseverance just as incredible and inspiring as people did in the 1700s [1].

The story and transformation of Kuan Yin throughout the course of history helps express why she means so much to so many people. Kuan Yin is known as a bodhisattva. “The bodhisattva is often described as a kind of Buddha-to-be, one who postpones ultimate nirvana in order to work tirelessly to eliminate the suffering of all living beings,” [1]. Kuan Yin was believed to have originated in India during the Common Era as a male spirit named Avalokitesvara. The spirit’s presence in China became female around the 12th century. The transformation between genders can perhaps be attributed to the Chinese association between wisdom and femininity and compassion and masculinity as these are two qualities central to Kuan Yin’s existence [1]. Furthermore, the version of Kuan Yin that seems most relevant to the porcelain figure in the Sam Noble collections is that of “the Chinese princess Miao-shan, a common fisherwoman, a goddess springing from a clam, and thousand-armed and thousand-eyed deity whose multiple arms and eyes symbolize the infinite powers of her saving compassion,” [1]. The aspect of being a fisherwoman may explain why the creator of this statue displayed her standing on a fish with long whiskers.

fosterbrooke_85809_9610732_IMG_4986

I also found another image of Kuan Yin where she is surrounded by the sea and confirms that this was a common view of her in Chinese culture.

fosterbrooke_85809_9610733_GuanYinPuSa58      [4]

The gender fluidity of Kuan Yin’s story as well as her essence of compassion, perseverance, and wisdom clearly explains why she is a modern day inspiration the LGBTQ community.

The discovery that statues of Kuan Yin are being used for the same purpose by a variety of different people expresses how significant Buddhism and other religions have been all around the world. Idols and statues like this one of the bodhisattva, Kuan Yin, reinforce the importance of divination and guidance across cultures and throughout the passage of time.

 

((Brooke Foster)) Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Works Cited

[1] Bailey, Cathryn. 2009. “Embracing the Icon: The Feminist Potential of the Trans Bodhisattva,

Kuan Yin.” Hypatia. 24(3): 178-196.

[2] Ethnology. 1956. “Porcelain Statue.” Museum of the University of Oklahoma. E/55-56/18/29.

[3] Hay, Jonathan. 1999. “Culture, Ethnicity, and Empire in the Work of Two Eighteenth-Century

‘Eccentric’ Artists.”Anthropology and Aesthetics 35: 201-223.

[4] Raven, Shikoba. “I Am Creation.” My Kuan Yin, Shikoba Raven, 14 June 2011,

mykuanyin.blogspot.com/2011/06/i-am-creation.html.

Object: Bronze Food Bowl

E_1963_4_8Accession Number:           E/1963/4/008

Object:                                      This is a cast bronze food bowl with a lid. It has two handles and an inscription inside. It is in very good condition for being roughly 2500 years old.

Location:                                 This object comes from the Chou dynasty of ancient China.

Date:                                          Exact date unknown, but roughly 800 B.C.E

Material:                                  Cast Bronze

Keywords

Chou Dynasty, Zhou Dynasty, Bronze, Food Bowl

Object Background

This item is notable for its intricate patterns, inscription on the inner surface, and animal motifs. The intricate patterns point to the fact that the food bowls served more than a utilitarian purpose. These objects were used in a ceremonial or ritual context, so their designs had to be aesthetically pleasing. An inscription on the inner surface of the bowl is common amongst Chinese bronzes. The inscription could signify who made the bowl, who it was for, or the purpose of the bowl [1] [2]. Last, the animal motifs are commonly seen amongst other bronze objects. The taotie symbol is one that is animalistic but does not look like any one particular animal. It has feline and bovine characteristics and was a universally understood symbol at the time even though its meaning has been lost [3]. Last, a ram is seen on the handles of the bowl. Rams were often used to symbolize good luck and happiness [4].  So, this bronze food bowl could have been used in a ritual as a form of celebration of a god or deceased ancestor.

Cultural Background

The Chou (Zhou) Dynasty ruled from 1122 B.C.E – 256 B.C.E and was the longest ruling of the ancient Chinese dynasties. In addition to its long tenure, this dynasty is notable for its intricate bronze figurines, food containers, and other similar items [5]. Primarily used by wealthy and noble people as a ceremonial object, these bronze objects also served other purposes. Bronze bowls, in particular, were important for their aesthetics and their multifunctionality.

Discussion

While it is difficult to know the specific purpose of this bronze food bowl due to the large possibility of uses, it is very similar to other collected artifacts from ancient China. This helps to understand how it could have been used. It is very likely that this bronze food bowl saw use due to the fact that a white line, similar to a water line, is visible near the bottom of the interior surface. This could imply that food or drink sat stagnant in the bowl for a very long period of time. Based on this assumption, the aesthetics and symbols of the bowl, and the possible functions, it is probable that this bowl held a sacrificial offering. This offering was likely used in a ceremonial manner in which one was asking for happiness and good luck either for themselves, a god, or a deceased relative. The various symbols throughout the bowl are tied to Chinese religion, and these bowls were commonplace in rituals.

Furthermore, this bronze food bowl helps demonstrate the overall culture of ancient China. Since these bowls were used for sacrifices or rituals, it tells about the religion. For example, this shows that the religion of early China was somewhat similar to that of the Mayans with the use of sacrificial offerings. It also parallels that of ancient Egypt with the use of burial objects to provide food or other things to ancestors during the afterlife. Moreover, these objects show how a largely agrarian culture behaved and their everyday life was intertwined with their religion.

Last, it is important to note that many of these bronze vessels were reserved for nobility or the wealthy. Bronze was very expensive and valuable so it could not be purchased by all people. These items demonstrate that, as is expected, the upper class had a different way of life than the peasants. They were able to be in touch with their ancestors and provide for their deceased relatives even through the afterlife. The bronze bowls can serve many purposes in ancient China, but they were primarily used by the rich in a ceremonial context.

 

Works Cited

[1] Lippe, Aschwin. 1950. “A Gift of Chinese Bronzes.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9(4): 97-107.

[2] Magurn, Blanche. 1945. “A Collection of Chinese Bronzes.” Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum 10(3): 87-92.

[3] Ho, Wai-Kam. 1964. “Shang and Chou Bronzes.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 51(7): 175-187.

[4] Von Erdberg, Eleanor, and Wen C. Fong. 1978. “Chinese Bronzes: From the Collection of Chester Dale and Dolly Carter”. Artibus Asiae. Supplementum 35: 152-153

[5] Walker, Paul. Unknown. “Bronze Food Bowl.” Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

Works Referenced

Bagley, Robert. 2006. “Ornament, Representation, and Imaginary Animals in Bronze Age China.” Arts Asiatiques 61: 17-29.

Hay, John. 1999. “Questions of Influence in Chinese Art History.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics (25): 240-262.

Sterckx, Roel. 2013. “Food, Sacrifice, and Sagehood in Early China.” Asian Ethnology 72(2): 336-339.

Xu, Jay. 2006. “Food Vessel (Fangding).” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 32(1): 28-29.

 

((Austin Bashaw)) Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Object: Bronze Foo Dog

 

E/1975/4/1
Foo Dog/Lion Statue
Asia
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

This is a bronze Foo Dog statue from Asia. It is 18” in height, 30.5” in width, and 10.5” in diameter. It has a detachable tail. Its mouth is open and there is a globe located under its right paw.

 Lion-Dog or Foo Dog statues can be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia and are made of everything from porcelain to bronze. Historically, lions have represented wisdom, royalty, pride, and protection in many cultures around the world. These Lion-dog or Foo Dog statues are highly symbolic in Buddhism. Lions are viewed as iconographic figures in Buddhism because they protect “cosmic law and order,” serving as guardians for monasteries and shrines. One ancient story involves Buddha taming a wild lion. This tame lion would follow at Buddha’s heels like a “faithful dog.” Additionally, Buddha’s teachings are often referred to as the “Lion’s Roar” because of their power and strength.

Foo Dogs also feature prominently in ancient Chinese culture. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220CE) people began placing two lion statues in front of an image of Buddha. However, it was not until the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185 CE) that Lion-dog statues began to appear outside of temples and shrines. These statues were meant to honor the Buddha and protect the inhabitants of the site.

Since the Han Dynasty, Lion-dog statues are usually found in pairs: one female and one male. This bronze Foo Dog is also part of a pair. It is considered a male because of the globe located under its paw, which signifies protection of its territory and home. An open mouth on a male Foo Dog usually indicates an ending. On the other hand, for Female Foo Dogs, an open mouth symbolizes beginnings. Female Foo Dogs also have a cub under their left paw symbolizing strength and protective maternal instincts.

Foo Dog statues can still be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia today, many still guarding homes, temples, and palaces. They appear in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and continue to symbolize protection. It is not uncommon to find Foo Dogs or other guardian statues outside of homes all around the world.

[Bryanna Evans]

References:

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-BH/bh117490.htm

http://www.sfweekly.com/exhibitionist/2013/05/31/recent-acquisitions-the-asian-art-museum-now-guarded-by-bronze-lions

http://rohsska.se/en/om-rohsska-museet/historik/1261/

http://art.thewalters.org/browse/community/19/

http://www6.miami.edu/lowe/collection_art_of_asia.html

Object: Porcelain Dish

E/1967/26/8
Dynastic China
Qing Dynasty, ca. 1796-1820
Materials: Porcelain, assorted colored glazes

Porcelain is made from a special type of clay called Kaolin, giving porcelain its distinctive white color.  The Kaolin is processed, shaped by the potter, given a primary glaze and then fired to over 1200°C to make the undecorated object. The porcelain is then ready for the application of colorful enamels, which make up the surface decoration.  With a second firing, the enamels bind to the glaze forming a smooth, bright surface.

The porcelain ceramic style was first developed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and became popular with the Chinese Emperors. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) mass production of porcelain began with many of these beautiful objects being exported.  Porcelain became popular with the wealthy in Europe during the Medieval Period but the techniques remained a trade secret until German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger successfully recreated them in 1708. Böttger’s work is an early example of industrial espionage as Böttger used reverse engineering techniques that remain popular in a wide range of modern industries.

This Qing Ceramic Dish are decorated with many colorful fruits and butterflies which demonstrate the influences of the European style through enamels and symbols. With such high demand and variation in the works, forgeries are common. Many of the porcelain pieces for sale today are imitations of the classic porcelain style. This great demand has also revitalized traditional porcelain techniques ushering in a golden age for hand-crafted Chinese porcelain.The following video demonstrates how porcelain bowls are made using an electric potter’s wheel instead of traditional foot powered wheel.

Work Cited

Asia Society the Collection in Context. “Dish.” 2007.
http://www.asiasocietymuseum.org/region_object.aspRegionID=4&CountryID=12&ChapterID=32&ObjectID=409

Gates, William C. “Asian Art Galleries: A History of Porcelain.”
http://ringlingdocents.org/asian/art/porcelain.htm

Koh, NK. “Relationship between Falangcai, Yangcai, Fencai, and Famille rose.” November,
2008. http://koh-antique.com/history/falang.htm

McGregor, John. “Porcelain: A Short History from 1708 to World War I.” 2005.
http://www.steincollectors.org/PSS/Porcelain/PORCELN.HTM

Nilsson, Jan-Erik. “Marks on Later Chinese Porcelain.” 2000.
http://gotheborg.com/marks/index- china-marks.htm

“Ten Rules on ‘How to Deal with Fakes.” 2000. http://gotheborg.com/qa/fakes.shtml

Seattle Art Museum. “Glossary.” In Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe.
http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/Exhibit/Archive/porcelainstories/glossary.htm.

[Travis Bates}

Object: Bronze Head

E/1955/18/138
Bronze Head
Dynastic China
Location: Asia, China
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

We can learn a great deal by looking at the details of objects to uncover the mystery of what they mean. This Chinese statue is an excellent example. It is a large 32-inch tall hollow cast bronze head of a woman. By looking closely at the head, we can see she has an elaborate hairstyle with an ornate headpiece. The headpiece has a miniature figure of Buddha in front, over her forehead. Her eyes are closed, as if asleep, and she has a slight smile on her lips. There is no evidence that there was ever a body attached to this head. So what are we to make of this unusual object?

 

First, we look at how it was made. The process of bronze casting is very old, beginning in China around 1600 BC, in what was known as the Shang Dynasty. Bronze is an alloy, or combination, of copper and tin and forms a very durable metal. While we do not know how old this statue is, it certainly developed out of this long-standing bronze working tradition.

With her serene facial expression, this head may represent the figure of Kuan Yin (Kwan Yin) or “She Who Hears the Cries of the World,” goddess of mercy, compassion, kindness, and love in the Buddhist faith. This Chinese Buddhist goddess is said to be based on a real woman. According to one legend, Kuan Yin’s father murdered her and she went down to the underworld. When she got there, she recited words from the Buddhist holy books, preventing the god of the underworld from torturing the souls of the dead. He was not pleased, so he sent Kuan Yin back to be alive once more. After returning to the world of the living, she spent all her time studying Buddhist ideas and teachings, learning from the Buddha. As a result of her dedication and her compassionate nature, the Buddha made her immortal, and she became the goddess of mercy and compassion.

In paintings, Kuan Yin is often depicted as wearing white robes and sitting on a lotus flower, which also symbolizes peace. Sometimes she is even shown with a thousand heads and a thousand arms, so that she can more effectively bestow her mercy on the world. Stories about Kuan Yin seem to have begun with stories about a male Indian boddhisatva (holy person) called Avlokitesvara. By the 1st Century AD in China, Kuan Yin not only changed names, she also changed genders! She is known my many different name all across East Asia, and a wide range of different stories are told about her.

If you want to see this bronze statue for yourself, come by the Sam Noble Museum! It is currently on exhibit in our Orientation Gallery, the first gallery to the right after you enter the main part of the museum!

Take a look at this great video by the San Diego Museum of Art on the history of Buddhism:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Tomb figure

E/1960/3/1
Horse tomb figure
Chinese
Henan Province, China
T’ang Dynasty (618-906 CE)
Materials: ceramic, slip

The ancient Chinese believed the human soul had two parts. When a person died they believed that these two parts separated, with one entering into the spirit world (also known as the hun), and the other (called the po) staying here on earth inside his or her tomb. In the T’ang Dynasty the upper-classes were buried with hundreds of clay objects called mingqi. Mingqi were representations of all the things that were important to individual and could include figures of people and animals, pots and bowls, and other everyday objects. These figures would ensure that the part of the soul that remained inside the tomb would have an enjoyable afterlife. Many aspects of the tomb were regulated by the government. The size of the tomb and the number of mingqi allowed depended on the rank and status of the deceased. Higher ranking officials were able to stock their tombs with large collections of tomb figures. Popular figures included representations of servants, entertainers, horses and camels. In particular, the horse was a symbol of the aristocracy and horse tomb figures, like the one in the Sam Noble Museum collection, were placed in nearly all high-ranking tombs. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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