DETAIL: A very cute, splendidly preserved traditional blue and white porcelain ink well so wonderfully characteristic of late Ming/early Qing Dynasty artwork. Formed in the shape of a dumpling (a “potsticker” to Americans), it is about the size of a half orange and bears a very cute and dainty floral pattern on the upper surface. The glaze is entirely intact, vibrant cobalt blue, and the condition of the ink well is virtually perfect. There is some “crazing” or “crackling” of the porcelain glaze, but this is entirely normal and is anticipated in antique/ancient ceramics and porcelain pieces. It is regarded a testament to the age of the piece, and no generally held to be detrimental unless it is excessive and to the point where the glaze is flaking off. As you can see here, the glaze is entirely intact and in wonderful condition. There is of course a little minor wear – we’re not saying it is as when new. But this is as good as one can reasonably expect of a porcelain ink well somewhere around 150 or 200 years old. It’s not perfect, but it is about as close to perfect as you will ordinarily find of an authentic 19th century desk accoutrement bottle like this, and there are no repairs. Of course realistically one would expect some blemishes after being used for several hundred years, and there are no surprises here except that there are so few blemishes.
These ink wells are quite unique. Notice that there are two holes, one in the spout and one in the center. Ink was filled through the center and when full, placing one’s finger over the hole would create enough pressure to force a single drop of ink out the spout. This then could be picked up by the writing instrument and transferred to parchment or paper – allowing one to write. Alternatively these were used as “water droppers”. Ink generally came in dried blocks which had to be chipped and then crushed – and then mixed with water. The fact that a dispenser such as this would dispense just one drop of liquid at a time was useful. A calligrapher could use this to dispense just the right amount of water to mix with a tiny bit of dried ink. Likewise someone painting with water paints could dispense just a single drop of water at a time. So whether used to dispense liquid ink; or single drops of water for the ink calligrapher or artist using water paint, this was a very useful desk accoutrement.
There are a few production blemishes, again really not noticeable, and quite typical of hand-crafted porcelain of the late Ming/early Qing Dynasties. These are normal potter blemishes associated with hand produced ceramics (bumps, warts, and acne pits). All of these blemishes are virtually unnoticed – but we’re playing critic in the name of full disclosure. Overall it is an exceptionally attractive piece, and extraordinarily well preserved specimen of the ancient Chinese ceramic art. If you’d like an authentic, cute little ancient blue and white porcelain artifact to proudly display, you could not go wrong with this one. It is solidly shaped, nicely featured, and perfectly proportioned. You could display this one with great pride either at work on your desk or at home. Either way, it will certainly generate curiosity and perhaps even a little envy!
HISTORY OF QING CERAMICS: The Qing (Ch’ing) Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.) was the last imperial dynasty of China. Imperial patronage stimulated one of China's most intense periods of ceramic production, characterized by unmatched technical expertise and refinement in blue and white, monochrome, and polychrome ceramics. Colorful enamel porcelain overglazes were invented. The process of enameling was further developed, along with a nearly endless number of new shades for monochrome-glazed porcelain. An innovative new technique produced five-colored porcelains. Applying a variety of under-glaze pigments to decorative schemes of flower, landscape and figurative scenes, these five-colored porcelains gained great renown in Western Europe. In almost every major European museum, you will find either five-colored or monochromatic porcelain (in blue, red, yellow or pink) from this period. The finest export wares were produced for European markets in the 17th and 18th centuries. Perhaps the most exciting pottery was produced in small, provincial workshops. The potters here did not compete with the elaborate imperial kilns, but instead created delightful wares for local patrons. Small porcelain items such as teapots, pen rests, and water droppers were commonly found on most any gentleman's desk from China to Europe.
HISTORY OF THE QING DYNASTY: For the second time in its history, China found itself ruled by outsiders when the Manchus took Beijing and overthrew the Ming Dynasty, establishing the last imperial dynasty, the Qing (1644-1911 A.D.). The Manchus retained many institutions of Ming and earlier Chinese Dynasties, continuing Confucian court practices and temple rituals. The Manchu emperors supported Chinese literary and historical projects of enormous scope. The survival of much of China's ancient literature is attributed to these projects. However the Manchu were suspicious of Han Chinese, so the Qing Dynasty rulers took steps to ensure that the Manchus were not simply absorbed into the larger, dominant Han Chinese population. Han Chinese were prohibited from migrating into the Manchu homeland, and Manchus were forbidden to engage in trade or manual labor. Intermarriage between the two groups was forbidden. In many government positions a system of dual appointments was used--the Chinese appointee was required to do the substantive work and the Manchu to ensure Han loyalty to the Qing Dynasty.
The Qing regime was determined to protect itself not only from internal rebellion but also from foreign invasion. After all of China had been subjugated, the Manchus conquered Outer Mongolia, gained control of much of Central Asia and Tibet. The Qing became the first dynasty to eliminate successfully all danger to China from across its land borders. The power of the Chinese Empire reached the highest point in its 2000-year history, and then collapsed. The collapse was partly due to internal decay, but as well due to external pressures exerted by the Western European powers. Ironically the fatal threat to the Qing Dynasty did not come overland as in the past, but by sea in the form of traders, missionaries, and soldiers of fortune from Europe.
The mindset that China was in every respect superior to outside “barbarians” resulted in an inability to evaluate correctly or respond flexibly to the new challenges presented by technologically and militarily superior Western European countries. Ultimately this cultural rigidity resulted in the demise of the Qing and the collapse of the entire millennia-old framework of dynastic rule. China was literally dismembered by Western European countries who fought over the carcass like so many wild animals. Shortly after the Sino-Japanese War the Western-educated Sun Yat-sen had initiated a revolutionary movement which established a republican form of government, overthrowing the last imperial dynasty. Of course the Republic of China was in turn overthrown by the Communists after the conclusion of World War II.
HISTORY OF CHINESE EARTHENWARE: The first Chinese ceramics archaeologists have found date back more than 10,000 years. These were earthenware, which means they were made from clay and fired at the kind of low temperatures reached by a wood fire or simple oven. In China, most ceramics made before the Tang dynasty (600 A.D.) are earthenware. They may be glazed or unglazed, and are occasionally painted, often brightly colored. Stoneware ceramics are harder and less porous than earthenware and are fired at hotter temperatures—between 2100°F and 2400°F. At these high temperatures, the surface of the clay melts and becomes glassy. Although stoneware is usually waterproof, most stoneware ceramics are glazed for decoration. The glazes often contain ash, which allows the glaze to harden at stoneware temperatures.
During the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 B.C.) bronze metallurgy superceded ceramics as the favored art form of the ruling class. However both the ceramic and the bronze industries evolved into complex systems of production that were supported by the aristocracy. Decorative designs rich in symbolism were created first in bronze were then imitated in clay. Chinese burial customs included the tradition of placing clay replicas of material possessions, animals and people in the tomb to accompany the deceased and serve them in the next life. Although archaeological finds have revealed that glazed pottery was produced as early as 1100 B.C. during the Zhou dynasty, the production of glazed wares was not common until about 200 B.C. during the Han Dynasty. However from about 1000 B.C. onwards during the Shang and Zhou dynasties, primitive porcelain wares emerged. Real porcelain wares appeared in the Han dynasty around 200 A.D. In the process of porcelain development, different styles in different periods blossomed.
The production of porcelain became widespread by about 500 A.D. Using a special clay with ground rock containing feldspar, a glassy mineral, the material was fired at very high temperatures above 2400°F. The surface of the clay melts at such high temperatures and becomes smooth as glass. Early porcelains were undecorated and were used by the Imperial court and exported as far as the Middle East. For instance during the Han Dynasty principally celadon (green) and black porcelain were mainly produced. The famous blue and white porcelain was created with blue paint made from cobalt and then covered with a clear glaze, which can withstand the high temperatures of the kiln. The technical and creative innovations of Chinese potters are unique accomplishments in the cultural heritage of the world. Today, archaeological excavation and research in China are revealing new sites and new examples of the genius of the Chinese potter.
HISTORY OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION: Remains of Homo erectus, found near Beijing, have been dated back 460,000 years. Recent archaeological studies in the Yangtse River area have provided evidence of ancient cultures (and rice cultivation) flourishing more than 11,500 years ago, contrary to the conventional belief that the Yellow River area was the cradle of the Chinese civilization. The Neolithic period flourished with a multiplicity of cultures in different regions dating back to around 5000 B.C. There is strong evidence of two so-called pottery cultures, the Yang-shao culture (3950-1700 B.C.) and the Lung-shan culture (2000-1850 B.C). Written records go back more than 3,500 years, and the written history is (as is the case with Ancient Egypt) divided into dynasties, families of kings or emperors. The voluminous records kept by the ancient Chinese provide us with knowledge into their strong sense of their real and mythological origins – as well as of their neighbors.
By about 2500 B.C. the Chinese knew how to cultivate and weave silk and were trading the luxurious fabric with other nations by about 1000 B.C. The production and value of silk tell much about the advanced state of early Chinese civilization. Cultivation of silkworms required mulberry tree orchards, temperature controls and periodic feedings around the clock. More than 2,000 silkworms were required to produce one pound of silk. The Chinese also mastered spinning, dyeing and weaving silk threads into fabric. Bodies were buried with food containers and other possessions, presumably to assist the smooth passage of the dead to the next world. The relative success of ancient China can be attributed to the superiority of their ideographic written language, their technology, and their political institutions; the refinement of their artistic and intellectual creativity; and the sheer weight of their numbers.
A recurrent historical theme has been the unceasing struggle of the sedentary Chinese against the threats posed by non-Chinese peoples on the margins of their territory in the north, northeast, and northwest. China saw itself surrounded on all sides by so-called barbarian peoples whose cultures were demonstrably inferior by Chinese standards. This China-centered ("sinocentric") view of the world was still undisturbed in the nineteenth century, at the time of the first serious confrontation with the West. Of course the ancient Chinese showed a remarkable ability to absorb the people of surrounding areas into their own civilization. The process of assimilation continued over the centuries through conquest and colonization until what is now known as China Proper was brought under unified rule.
SHIPPING: These antiquities come from a number of collections which by and large originated here in Eastern Europe. As well, additional specimens are occasionally acquired from other institutions and dealers, principally in Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. All of these artifacts are now in the United States and are available for immediate delivery via U.S. Mail. All purchases are backed by an unlimited guarantee of satisfaction and authenticity. If for any reason you are not entirely satisfied with your purchase, you may return it for a complete and immediate refund of your entire purchase price. A certificate of authenticity (COA) is available upon request.
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