Sunday, December 30, 2007

For the Love of the Northern Song

Recently, I have been focusing a lot of my thoughts on ceramic form in regards to my own work. So, in a trip to the Asian Collection at the Denver Art Museum, I think that it was natural that I was drawn to a piece that was white and without decoration--a piece that relied on form as a strength. It was the quiet softness of this ewer from China's Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) that made me want a second (longer) look. 

In Regards to the Physical
This ewer is made of stoneware, probably local stoneware as that was what clay was available. This piece was thrown on the potter's wheel as you can clearly see the throwing rings (especially in the spout and handle). The technical proficiency of the maker(s) seems varied, which makes me wonder if it was made by several potters and assembled factory-style (the body and the neck are very well thrown, but the spout and handle seem dischordant). The piece appears to be made of a gray stoneware with a white slip applied to the surface and a clear glaze applied over that. There are visible wadding marks from the firing on the foot, drips in the glaze (uneven application), there is a large iron spot in the glaze as well as a couple scratch marks visible in the slip. All of these imperfections point to a less skilled maker(s) or an object made for everyday use. What lends to the elegance of the ewer is the dramatically narrow foot in relation to the narrow neck and spout and the wide lip. The effect of these proportions is a form that is reaching up and out--if I were to make my body take the shape and gesture of this ewer, I would put my feet together and take in a deep breath forcing my hands in the air above my head and at about a 45 degree angle from my shoulders.

It seems that this piece was valuable for contemplation as well as use. It is not decorated at all, which for this time period makes me think it might be made for the temple/monastery. So if this is the case, then the white, undecorated surface would make it valuable. If it is for everyday use (the strangeness about the handle and spout would point at this piece being made by a potter in training, making it less valuable for ritual etc. and more utilitarian).
 It is a rather large ewer, making me guess that it is for a liquid that is plentiful--not so special or the ewer would be smaller. It seems proportionately functional--it wouldn't be akward to use. It appears to have all of its parts, though I cant help but wonder--where does the liquid go? Cups? A bowl?

In Regards to Society

This ewer was possibly made by multiple people, most likely all men. I am going to say that it was made from parts thrown by several potters and assembled. This might mean that the piece was made in a large pottery, implying that the potter was probably not paid immensely well (though that might be my contemporary prejudice viewpoint). The skill levels of the potters who made this varies so widely that I am inclined to think that this piece was made as training for more well made pieces to go to the Monastery for contemplation/meditation. So in this way, the object was made with the public in mind, but became private and for non-spiritual use. It is beautiful in its simplicity and interesting in its varied technical skill levels.

In Regards to History

Time really hasnt changed this object at all. There seems to be very little evidence of time passing on this piece. There arent even visible bracks (okay, I’m going to stop highlighting your typos now: you get the idea), chips or breakage. I am sure the value of this peice has been affected by its ability to have withstood time and avoid any visible damage. I am sure that it is also valuable as a representative of the Song Dynasty purely because there are a limited amount of objects that are still intact fromt his period--and there will most likely not be any more available any time soon. This ewer was not as valuable when it was made as it is now. It was not considered art at the time it was made. The object could still be used today for what it was made for originally, I also feel that most anyone could intuit how to use this object today because of a similarity to contemporary objects in use now. I have a feeling this object was not meant to last but for whatever reason--it did.

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