Chinese Vases and Vessels

exhibit section showing vases


A deep respect for tradition is found within all of Chinese art. These vessels depict both beauty and function in the types of objects by which the imperial court and wealthy Chinese individuals surrounded themselves, whether the material was jade, porcelain, metal, or stone.

Traditional decoration for Chinese vases and vessels incorporated floral and bird motifs, as well as scenes of human activities. Other decorative elements include zoomorphic imagery, or animalistic carvings. Animals were viewed in ancient China as powerful messengers, and their qualities could be transmitted symbolically. Animal imagery often decorated vessels that were used for ritual offerings to the gods and ancestral spirits.

The production of monochrome porcelains in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) included the creation of magnificent glazes, where decoration is secondary to the shape and the color of the glaze. Violet overglazes were also introduced into the Chinese decorative repertory in the early 1700s.

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Ancestor Worship

From ancient times, jade was the most revered stone in China, believed to be possessed of magical properties and valued for its beauty and indestructibility. By the Qing Dynasty, intensive specialization in the jade workshop made it was possible for an artist to devote an entire lifetime to the perfection of a single task.

Jade is harder than most minerals, and must be abraded rather than carved. After the shape is roughly defined, it is polished with successively finer grits until the desired surface is achieved. Jadeite and nephrite are two different types of jade, also, jade is not always green-hued but is often multi-colored. Examples here attest to the mastery of the Chinese jade carver.

set of jade bowls
libation cup
nephrite bowl

Covered bowls - made of nephrite (a type of jade); Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911).Gift of Owen and Leone Elliott.

This nephrite is valued for its green veins and natural cloud-like markings. Precise radial incisions rise from a scalloped base to a fluted rim to form the petals of a chrysanthemum (symbol of autumn and steadfast friendship).
-- Artifact on loan courtesy of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, Iowa.

Rhyton (libation cup) - made of nephrite; Ch'ing Dynasty. Gift of Owen and Leone Elliott.

This cup features lizardlike creatures ("ch'ih" immature dragons that are special guardians for mortals). The handle at the base of the cup is formed by the divided head of a phoenix (symbol of beauty, peace, prosperity, and harmony) and associated with the Empress.
-- Artifact on loan courtesy of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, Iowa.

Bowl - made of nephrite; K'ang-hsi Period Period (1662-1722) of the Ch'ing Dynasty. Gift of Owen and Leone Elliott.

The stylized lotus (purity and perfection) was introduced to China with Buddhism. The arrangement of the blossom's petals suggest the spokes of a wheel and endless cycles of reincarnation. Intricate flowers rise on their stems to form handles holding loose rings.
-- Artifact on loan courtesy of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, Iowa.




set of vases

Famille Rose Medallion Temple Vases - the delicate palette of colors is called "famille rose" because of the predominant use of rose hues, derived from gold and made opaque by the addition of tin oxide. The vases are urn shaped with alternating panel scenes of flowers, birds and groups of people. Two applied gold handles are in the shape of dogs. Four applied gold lizards are seen on the upper side around the vase.
--Artifact on loan courtesy of the Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine, Iowa




lang-yao vase
violet overglazed vase

Lang-yao vase - porcelain with a peachbloom glaze containing copper oxide; K'ang-hsi Period (1662-1722) of the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Phillips.
--Artifacts on loan courtesy of the Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Fort Dodge, Iowa

Porcelain vase - with a blue and violet overglaze; Ch'ien-lung Period (1688-1766) of the Ch'ing Dynasty. Bequest of John J. Brady, Jr.

In this piece, the translucent crackled glaze has a brilliant crushed-raspberry hue.
--Artifacts on loan courtesy of the Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Fort Dodge, Iowa


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