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I did warn you that I’ll have to write at least a bit about Chinese art, didn’t I? After all, my stay here is supposedly all about becoming an expert in the matter. So, dear Readers, you may complain, you may whinge, you may carp, you may whine and you may even grumble, but I’m quite determined to stick to my lofty ideals and educate the lot of you. Alternately you may just skip the post – but you know your conscience will torment you if you do.

Today’s droning topic is porcelain. Hangzhou boasted one of the most famous imperial pottery kilns of old times, so to celebrate (and cash in on*) the fact, the authorities established a pottery museum, which I duly visited, like a good student that I am.

Here are some choice pieces that I enjoyed:

This pot is from more or less 6th century AD (if I remember correctly, but don’t take my word for it). Will you just look at the abstract decoration – if I didn’t know, I’d have thought it was a completely modern piece!

Something a tad more traditional (these people love their tripods).

You have to admit this is an interesting and intricate piece of vase decoration…

This one here looks like a typical celadon, meaning a special type of porcelain with a delicate, shiny surface that resembles jade and is created by covering the item with a layer of liquefied iron-rich clay before applying the glaze. This pale colour is probably one of the most popular shades, but they may vary from almost white to dark bluish-green. You remember those brilliant porcelain wares that look as if they were crackled on purpose? They also belong to the celadon category.

It may be hard to imagine how it actually worked, but these are indeed porcelain bells. The sound is very nice and resounding. I dare them to try with percussion, though.

An early collection of clothes-hangers? Nope, still musical instruments. A bit like ancient pottery xylophone…

I’m sure these colours ring a bell with you. My impression is that it’s the ultimate Chinese art: if in a movie someone steals a precious Chinese artefact, it’s going to be either one of those massive blue-and-white Ming vases or something like what we have here. This type of glazing is called Tang san cai, meaning “the Three Colours of the Tang Dynasty” (7-9th century AD, because that’s when it was created and reached its peak): off-white, tawny-brown and jade-green. Often the three will sort of merge together, as if someone simply poured them all onto the thing and waited to see the effect – which in fact is exactly how they did it. That’s why in this type of artwork every single piece is unique.

As you can see, pottery doesn’t have to be utilitarian. It may also be simply cute.

Tang san cai again, this time as a part of a very intricate sort of panel-like wall decoration (apologies for the grainy picture. The light was quite dark and I wasn’t allowed to use flash. Anyway, flash is evil and I avoid it at all costs).

And that’s it for today. If you’re still not bored/asleep/watching YouTube in a different tab, bear with me and read this little introduction to the exhibition. Apart from advancing one’s knowledge about what is basically clay, it also offers a charming insight into the difficulties of translating from Chinese into English.

Now you know where this post’s title comes from. “Ceramic culture is just like a blossom in the tree of archaic beauty”. I’ll leave you to ponder this thought.

* Actually no: all museums here are free. Much appreciated, Hangzhou City Council!

PS: It’s just been brought to my attention (thank you, You-Know-Who!) that all this time the tag-line to my blog was: “On the keeping and LOOSING of marbles”. How come I’ve never noticed it! There’s nothing loose about my marbles! It’s true what they say: human brain sees what it wants to see. But why wasn’t it only my brain that missed it? Why hasn’t anyone said anything for two whole months? Or were you all secretly smirking at my poor spelling skills which I so blatantly flaunted right in the title of my blog? Hmm?

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