The art we’ve discussed the last few months has mostly come from Europe, with some from the United States and Mexico, but it didn’t include extremely influential periods happening in other parts of the world, such as China, Japan, and Russia. Of course, you could learn about different kinds of art and the creators for the rest of your life and never hear about very many famous pieces, but I’d still like to put some exposure on some really interesting art, especially because I can get out of the realm of paintings.
The Ming Dynasty was an era in China that lasted from 1368 until 1644, and was presided over by the Han Chinese following the overthrowing of the Mongols. The Ming Dynasty was famous for governing China in an extremely efficient and stable manner. Often, when a country is stable for a long period of time, they have the luxury of developing the arts, and that was definitely the case in Ming-led China. Painting and theater developed many different styles, but some of the examples that we see more often are those in other forms, like pottery, woodworking, and sculpture.
Ming dynasty pottery became famous, and is often extremely valuable today, because of new methods of creation. The porcelain found in the Chinese pots was not seen elsewhere in the world, and the methods were protected closely. It’s interesting, because the reason porcelain was created was to improve an underwhelming product. Chinese pottery was considered low quality up until porcelain came along. Many examples of Ming Dynasty pottery will be white pots with blue paintings, but that wasn’t the only type being created. The jar below incorporates many colors, while also making use of traditional Chinese symbolism with the fish and the patterns.
Wood furniture in the Ming Dynasty also was an area of advancement. The Chinese had access to a wide variety of wood, including some not found elsewhere, and they took advantage of it and created very unique pieces. The desk below is actually semi-atypical, because of the fairly ornate nature of the relief and carving. The boxes on the top, on the other hand, represent Ming woodworking well. Simple, elegant lines dominated the time, and many of their designs would fall right in line with modern or futuristic design standards today.
One of my personal favorite things to come from the Ming Dynasty are the Foo Dogs, also known as Guardian Lions. These large sculptures were seen as companions to Buddha, and every aspect of their design is a symbol. The ear position, stance, gender, decor, and adornments all represent different things that would be important to the owner, either of a home, business, or city. A particular medallion on one may mean that the owner values success in business, while the shape of the mouth may mean that honesty is also valued. Foo dogs are often seen in pairs, but there are also many famous solo examples. The one shown below is located in the Forbidden City, which is the Imperial Palace located in the center of Beijing.
It is amazing how many interesting pieces were created in the Ming Dynasty, and how many different types of art were encompassed. It’s also extremely impressive to see how in demand these things still are, and how many of them still exist. One last interesting thing is that many of the pieces, outside of the pottery, don’t have records of their artists, so they are more often authenticated to the era, instead of the artist.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2015, April 21). Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved from MetMuseum: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/17.127.2
University of Maine Farmington. (2015, April 21). Ming Dynasty Furniture at the Shanghai Museum. Retrieved from China!: http://hua.umf.maine.edu/China/SMfurniture/