The brush pot (bitong) is mostly a cylindrical container for holding brushes used by scholars. They are made from various materials such as stone, porcelain and bamboo and often are decorated with ornate motifs, symbols and carvings.
The numerous brushes would be rinsed and stored in the pot with their handles down, so that the bundles of hair would keep their shape and point.
The brush is an important tool to the scholar. With it he could engage in calligraphy, landscape and still life painting. Like the pots the brushes came in an array of sizes.
Chinese brush washers were created at the same time as ink painting, and were used to remove excess ink from the brush while the scholar painted, or after the painting was finished. A common shape for the brush washer was a lotus leaf or flower.
Cantonese porcelain is a style of ceramic ware decorated in what is now Guangzhou the capitol of Guangdong, which was the only legal port prior to 1842 to export goods to Europe. Making it one of the biggest export wares produced in China during the 18th -20th century.
Rice paper is said to have been originally made from the straw of the rice plants of the village of Xuancheng in Anhui province. That is why it is also called xuan paper. The making of xuan paper is a long process involving 18 procedures and a 100 operations lasting over 300 days from the selection of the material to the finished product.
Reign marks can play a pivotal role in helping to identify the period in which Chinese artifacts were created. Reign marks are usually four or six characters in length and can be found on the base or the side of an item.
Making Sense of Chinese Reign Marks
To read a reign mark, it is important to understand how they are written.
Usually, the mark will consist of six characters and will be stamped, painted or etched into two columns. The mark should be read from top to bottom, and from right to left – not the traditional, western approach of left to right. Experts believe that this tradition began with Chinese artisans writing on long, thin strips of bone or bamboo.
Some reign marks can be made of up two or three horizontal lines of six or four characters. All marks will still be read from the right to the left.
Silver artifacts first appeared during the warring states period (475 – 221 BC.) like the silver gourd-shaped ladle at Beijing palace museum. Many early silver pieces appeared as animals and flowers.
A large number of silverware was made in the Tang dynasty (618 – 906 AD) During this period, agriculture, art and handcrafts were ahead of their time. Silverware saw a boom during the Ming (1368 – 1644 AD) and Qing dynasties (1644 – 1911).
The Chinese silversmiths made exquisite silver objects d’art, but unfortunately very few pieces from the Han dynasty 206 BC.- 220 AD) remain intact. What is left are in museums and only a hand full of silver containers remain from the Song (960 – 1279 AD. ) and Yuan (1279 – 1368 AD) dynasties, but from the silversmith skills inherited from the Tang (618 – 906 AD) dynasty the craftsmen created another style.
Glass was first made in China around 300 BC.
Peking glass however came about during the Kangxi reign, when a glass-works was established in the forbidden city (1696).
The new glass was commonly used to make vases and snuff bottles, to replace jade, lapis lazuli and other precious stones.
Snuff bottles were made in huge numbers for imperial gifts.
Snuff bottles were first produced in the early part of the 18th century to contain powdered tobacco which was imported into China. Snuff bottles were made initially for the emperor and the court, but eventually they were produced for the general public. They measured between an inch and a half and up to three inches in height. Emperor Kangxi established a central glass workshop, with snuff bottles as one of its products.
The origins of gilding go back at least 5000 years. The oldest gilded metalwork known in China are items consisting of bronze, wrapped in gold foil. Other items dated to the Shang dynasty (1700 – 1050 BC) are a number of bronze heads, some of which are partially covered with gold.
Early in the Qing dynasty (1712 – 1722) gilding on Chinese porcelain was introduced, They obtained this by grinding gold leaf into a powder and mixing it with colourless lead enamel.
Around the time of the warring states period (480 – 221 BC) the technique of mercury gilding came into popular use. Terms such as, best gilding, solid gilding or fire gilding were used. Pure gold was mixed with mercury to a liquid then applied to the item to be gilded. Once the item had been covered with the amalgam (mercury – gold mixture) was then heated in a furnace until the mercury vaporised, leaving the gold bonded to the surface of the item. Which was them burnished to a bright finish.