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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Art of China: The Land of Dragons

  • CEREMONIAL WINE VESSEL WITH COVER...

    Slide Notes

    This vessel reflects the technical virtuosity of early Chinese bronze casting, unparalleled in any other part of the world during this time period. In order to make this piece, first a clay model was formed and the intricate high relief design was executed on it. Then, an exterior mold of this model was made, also using clay, which was then removed and reassembled around a core for casting. Metal spacers determined the thickness of the bronze body. The precision of this piece is demonstrated by how well the pieces line up and the snug fit of the lid. The purpose of this type of vessel, called a you or yu, was to hold wine offerings from members of the ruling elite for spirits or ancestors. An inscription on the interior of the vessel as well as the lid reads, “Dui Cheng had this ritual vessel made [for his] accomplished [late] father Ding.” Wine in ancient China was made from grain (grape wine would not come to China until about fifteen hundred years after this vessel was made).

    Details

    Ceremonial wine vessel with cover (yu)

    12th–11th century B.C.

    Dimensions

    H. 25 cm (9 13/16 in.)

    Medium

    Bronze with eight-character inscription

    Classification

    Metalwork

    Accession Number

    34.63

    Collections
    Asia
    On View
    Bernat Corridor (Bronze Age China) - 273 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • VASE WITH LANDSCAPE

    Slide Notes

    Ceramics like this vase demonstrate Western influence through missionaries and trading, particularly in terms of the techniques used to create it. It’s suggested that European style-enameling was introduced in China by Jesuit missionaries during the 1720s, who taught European enameling and glass-making techniques to imperial workshops in Beijing. The overglaze opaque pink enamel, characteristic of porcelains decorated with “powdery color” (fencai) enamels (known as famille rose in the West), was invented in Leyden in the mid-seventeenth century, and was probably brought to China through interaction with Dutch traders, especially since they had trading posts along the Chinese coast.

    Details

    Vase with landscape

    1735–96

    Dimensions

    15 x 8.7 cm (5 7/8 x 3 7/16 in.)

    Medium

    Porcelain, Jingdezhen ware with overglaze enamel painted landscape and calligraphy

    Classification

    Ceramics, Porcelain

    Accession Number

    1982.182

    Collections
    Asia
    On View
    Schmid Gallery (Chinese Ceramics) - 275 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • FIGURAL LAMP STAND

    Slide Notes

    Considering the visual characteristics of this lamp bearer, one can draw conclusions on which dynastic period it came from as well as which region it's from. Human form lamp bearers like this one come from earlier periods (as opposed to later-Han dynasty lamp bearers which tended to be inspired by animal forms), and they have often been found in tombs from the Warring States period. The figure's broad face, high cheekbones long, thick, braided hair, and hoop earrings suggest that he may be from one of the minority tribes like Xionghu, who occupied the area northwest of China (today known as Mongolia). Competing courts diving China during the Warring States period each patronized their own bronze foundries, leading to the development of designs reflecting regional tastes. The jade birds perched on top of the sticks in the figure's hands are not original to the piece; in fact, they pre-date the figure by a thousand years. This addition to the piece has caused historians throughout history to develop different understandings of this figure, such as the notion that it represents a court entertainer or animal trainer. Originally, this figure would have been used as a base for an oil lamp, and the sticks would have each help up a shallow dish filled with vegetable oil and lit with a wick.

    Details

    Figural lamp stand

    4th–3rd century B.C.

    Dimensions

    Height 30cm (11 13/16in.)

    Medium

    Bronze and jade

    Classification

    Metalwork

    Accession Number

    31.976

    Collections
    Asia
    On View
    Bernat Corridor (Bronze Age China) - 273 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • HORSE

    Slide Notes

    Considering the style, materials, subject matter and purpose of this work, this sculpture reflects many of the values and social context, as well as artisanal standards of the Tang dynasty during the eighth century B.C. In terms of material, two types of glazes were used to paint this figure: an unusual black glaze, made from iron and copper, covering most of the sculpture, as well as a much more common three-color lead glaze of yellow, green and cream. The black glaze is unusual because at the time it was considered difficult to make and therefore not used very often, whereas the three-color glaze, known as sancai, emerged late in the seventh century and became popular during the eighth century. Along with the glazes, the realistic style of this sculpture reflects the naturalistic modeling artistans began to employ in the eighth century. There's a sense of power and movement conveyed by the horse's stance - his head thrown back with flared nostrils, mouth open, and mane rippling. While this figure is today seen as a classic Chinese horse, it actually is modeled after a very specific breed found in Central Asia that was highly sought after by the Chinese starting in the second century B.C.  for combat against mounted warriors from nomadic tribes. These small, stocky horses were crucial to military strength and very important to rulers of the Tang dynasty, and they were often given as tribute gifts to courts or traded at government trading posts. Considering the large size, delicate modeling and beautiful glaze of this sculpture, it was probably placed in the tomb of a high ranking Tang official or member of the imperial family.

    Details

    Horse

    Early 8th century

    Dimensions

    73 cm (28 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Earthenware with three-color glaze and applied motifs

    Classification

    Ceramics, Pottery, Earthenware

    Accession Number

    46.478

    Collections
    Asia
    On View
    Bernat Gallery (Han & Tang China) - 274 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • GUANYIN, BODHISATTVA OF COMPASSION

    Slide Notes

    This sculpture, which likely came from a temple in Chang'an (the Sui capital), represents Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of compassion. Bodhisattvas, in general, were deities who delayed theiy own enlightment in order to help all sentient biengs free themselves from the vicious cycle of life and death. Guanyin, one of the most frequently worshipped bodhisattva deities from the fifth century onward, was also seen as a savior from perils. Typical of Northern Zhou style, the surface of the sculpture is richly deocrated with a pectoral on his chest, a bejeweled girdle with dangling strands of beads and medallions around his hips, bangles on his arms and wrists, and traces of brightly colored pigment and gilding that once covered the whole sculpture. The lotus pods in his left hand symbolize purity, and there is a seated Buddha set in to his elaborate headdress. The back of the figure is relatively unadorned, indicating it was probably only supposed to be seen from the front.

    Details

    Guanyin, Bodhisattva of Compassion

    about A.D. 580

    Dimensions

    249 x 71 x 71 cm (98 1/16 x 27 15/16 x 27 15/16 in.)

    Medium

    Carved limestone (gray) with traces of polychrome and gilding

    Classification

    Sculpture

    Accession Number

    15.254

    Collections
    Asia
    On View
    Chinese Sculpture Gallery - 271 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • BUDDHA WITH TWO BODHISATTVAS

    Slide Notes

    Buddhism came to China from India, and along with its teachings came religious images which would serve as a basis for Chinese Buddhist art and sculpture, such as this relief of Buddha with two Bodhisattvas. Around the sixth or fifth century B.C., a man named Siddhartha Gautama renounced his privileged life in India and chose instead to live the life of an ascetic. After achieving a state of enlightement – complete freedom from suffering and full understanding of the nature of reality – he spent the rest of his life preaching and his followers came to know him as Buddha (the sage or enlightened one). Certain visual iconographic elements are associated with depictions of Buddha, such as a protruding forehead and simple, monastic clothing. Bodhisattvas, on the other hand, are followers of Buddhism who have achieved enlightenment but have remained close to other living beings (unlike Buddhas, who remove themselves from worldly cares) in order to help them in their quest for salvation. Unlike Buddha, Bodhisattvas (the figures flanking Buddha in this relief) often take the form of princely figures, and are typically depicted with elaborate hairstyles and jewelry, representing their continued attachment to the physical, material world.

     

    Details

    Buddha with two bodhisattvas

    A.D. 516

    Dimensions

    Overall: 184.8 x 120 x 38.1cm (72 3/4 x 47 1/4 x 15in.)

    Medium

    Carved stone with traces of polychrome

    Classification

    Sculpture

    Accession Number

    2012.630

    Collections
    Asia
    On View
    Chinese Sculpture Gallery - 271 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • ZITHER (QIN)

    Slide Notes

    Used for playing ritual music as well as for personal enjoyment, the zither is a traditional Chinese instrument associated with refinement and learning. The main body of this instrument is made of  two kinds of wood: the top is paulownia wood (wutong) and the bottom is a type of catalpa wood (zi). The lacquer finish is applied over a base of lacquer mixed with powdered deer horn or crushed fired ceramic tiles, and the underside bears an inscription reading "Tone of antiquity" and a seal reading "To be treasured by sons and grandsons". These inscriptions were not shown while the instrument was being played but rather only when being displayed for a private gathering. The structure of this instrument is very symbolic as certain parts are named after mythical animals like the phoenix or dragon, the proportions symbolize heavenly bodies, the length (in Chinese units) represents the number of days in a year, and the thirteen inlaid markers along the fingerboard refer to the lunar cycle. Furthermore, the curved top of the instrument represents heaven while the flat bottom represents earth, and the player's presence completed the Confucian cosmology of earth, human, and heaven. Not only was the zither a difficult instrument to learn, but also instruments were rare, therefore only the elite could afford to study and  collect them and it became a symbl of literary life. Paintings of this time period depicted scholars retiring to their mountain retreats to play the zither for self-cultivation, and it was hanging on the wall of almost every scholar's study from the sixteenth century onwards.

    Details

    Zither (qin)

    about 1550–1650

    Dimensions

    Length 121 cm, width 19 cm, height 8.7 cm (Length 47 5/8 in., width 7 1/2 in., height 3 7/16 in.)

    Medium

    Wutong wood, zi wood

    Classification

    Musical instruments, Chordophones

    Accession Number

    1981.782

    Collections
    Musical Instruments
    On View
    285 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia