April 29, 2010

At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts: Chinese Pottery

Bottle with Dish-shaped Mouth, Sui or early Tang dynasty: 7th century, stoneware.

When I traveled to Boston last week to see the Melendez exhibit, which I wrote about here, I took along my camera; I've discovered that I deeply enjoy engaging with the things in a museum through my camera. As opposed to being a mechanical barrier, the camera encourages me to look more closely. I was thrilled to discover a wonderful collection of early Chinese pottery in a corridor at the museum. Pottery is an art form that provides rich aesthetic pleasure for me; I've written previously about Chinese Porcelain and American Art Pottery. Here are things, solid and present, made for use, however elevated, made with an eye toward beauty of form and color. These very early works transcend time, and would be perfectly comfortable in a contemporary setting.

Bottle with Abstract Design, Tang dynasty: 7th-8th century, "Sancai" polychrome ware, earthenware.

Circular Box with Dotted Design, Tang dynasty: 700-750, "Sancai" polychrome ware, earthenware.

Jar with Striated Decoration, Tang dynasty: 700-750, earthenware.

"Sancai" meant three colors, which we can see in the bottle above; the technique was also used for the ceramic Luohan I wrote about here. The perfect drips on the bottle, an artful combination of accident and control, emphasize its elegant shape. I love the glazed pattern on the small, around 4 inches, round box. It is called Sancai although it is not three colors; the large jar, with its imposing form and blue and green glaze, did not have Sancai on its label, but it seems that it should.

The last three pieces I'm showing were made later and have a more refined quality, which I don't at all mean to imply is "progress", just as I don't see early Italian Renaissance painting as lesser than the more "realistic" High Renaissance. They are simply different. I love the beauty of sinuous line in the decoration below, the elegance of shape, and the charm of the little 'hat' on the gourd-shaped ewer. Each one of these pieces of ancient Chinese pottery is something I would love to hold, to spend time with, while contemplating how a human-made object can enlarge our world.

Ewer with Double Spout, early northern Sung dynasty, 10th century, stoneware with green glaze and carved floral design.

Wine Bottle with Bird among Leaves, northern Sung-Jin dynasty, 12th century, stoneware.

Ewer in the shape of a double gourd, northern Sung-Jin dynasty, 12th century, porcellaneous stoneware.


  1. What fabulous colors and designs! It's awesome how advanced the Chinese were. Excellent photos. Last week in London I made a beeline for the pottery on the 6th floor of the Victoria and Albert; only two tiny, intricate pots by George Ohr, but lots by British Bernard Leach, and an intro to Chinese flambee glazes, a lovely discovery for me. Thanks once more, Altoon!

  2. Thanks for the compliments on the photos. Lucky you, Linda, to be able to roam London's great art collections. I looked up Bernard Leach: some interesting pots;thanks for the reference.

  3. Many years ago, while a Ceramics Major at MassArt, I was allowed entrance to the MFA ceramics "storage" area. Among all the gorgeous pieces on the shelves was a nondescript little Egyptian pot, hardly worth a look, but holding it in my hands I found a perfect finger print in the clay! I was "wowed" to see this evidence of an actual person, a potter "speaking " to me from c.1500 BC.

  4. Phil, how very special an experience to be able to visit the storage area of the museum. And your communing with the Eqyptian pot sounds amazing.