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Tang Yue ware

Celadon begonia-shaped bowl, Yue ware, 618–907 C.E., Tang dynasty, China (Shanghai Museum). Speakers: Dr. Kristen Brennan and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(jazzy music) - [Steven] We're in the ceramic galleries in the Shanghai Museum, and we're looking at an oblong bowl dating to the Tang dynasty. This was made between 618 and 907 CE. This is at least 1,400 years old. - [Kristen] So when we think about the Tang dynasty, we often think about the sancai, or these polychrome-glazed, whereas we see them in almost every museum collection with Asian art. This one, however, speaks to another development that was also in progress, from far earlier. - [Steven] The craftsman who made this is interested in achieving a purity in terms of its color, in terms of the thinness of the wall of the bowl, but also in terms of its shape. Gone are all of the figurative elements, and in its place is a pure abstraction, a love of the material itself in its purest form. - [Kristen] This is porcelain, it's the Yue ware, and this particular type of porcelain is glazed with this greenish, brownish, yellowish, very shiny, translucent glaze. What they were after is a jade-like glaze. - [Steven] I think in our world, we take glass and plastic for granted. In a world that was full of rough textures, of earth colors, this kind of purity must've felt almost miraculous. - [Kristen] Just the fact that kilns could fire the bodies of these porcelain vessels from such an early time, and actually earlier than this, is quite remarkable. - [Steven] The Chinese technical facility is extraordinary, not only in terms of being able to shape this vase, but being able to fire it. That technology simply wasn't available in most other parts of the world. - [Kristen] It's quite a large vessel. It's sitting on a round foot. The entire object is glazed inside and out, all the way down to the foot, with an evenness. You can hardly see the body below. - [Steven] And the shape of the vase is referencing ever so subtly the begonia, this four-lobed flower. - [Kristen] Four tiny little indentations, the mark of a finger pushing in slightly just to make that reference to this flower. - [Steven] And so, gone is almost all reference to the natural world. This is a vessel that is about the artistry of ceramics itself. (jazzy music)