Art History

Jun Ware of the Yuan Dynasty

As one may expect of a Dynasty characterized by ceramic excellence indeed the pinnacle of a civilizations history the Jun ware of the Henan Province are truly a pleasure to behold. The emphasis of formal perfection may be seen in this example from the Freer collection emphasized by the delicate blushes of color from the rich glaze. Produced during the Dynasty following the Song the ability to maintain such excellence across the generations adds depth and breadth to the quality of this piece. Achieved through thick application and diffraction of light amongst countless tiny bubbles in the glass the blue color subtly shifts as thickness changes allowing the clay body to be seen near the rim where the glaze is thinnest. A splash of purple from a copper based pigment breaks up the blue and adds drama to the glaze without taking away from the overall simplicity and elegant beauty.

Ding Ware of the Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty ranging from 960 AD to 1279 AD has long been classified as the pinnacle of Chinese ceramics.  The plate pictured is from a style known as ding ware and was developed during this time. Displaying an immense amount of skill and attention to form this plate is carved ever so delicately and glazed with a thin satin/semi-gloss glaze highlighting the intricate decoration which so elegantly responds to the shallow concave form. Then, as if it were not merely enough to achieve technical excellence in one field a bronze collar was added to the rim of the bowl with such care that no seam is readily evident which would expose the method of attachment. In concert the skill in forming and skill in decoration leave nothing behind to distract from the beauty and technical excellence of this piece.

Sancai Ware of the Tang Dynasty

The Tang dynasty brought with it an expansion of power and reunification of China begun with the Sui. Art and literature paired with extensive trade routes lead to a flourishing of culture and prosperity. In the production of Sancai ware potters used imported lead frits to make low fire glazes with bright and long-lasting colors. The term, meaning tri-colored ware, is in fact a misnomer originating from the time of rail expansion in China. Tombs and the tomb goods were unearthed during excavations for the rail beds and the workers gave the name to this particular type of ware. By the time other colors were discovered on the same type of ceramics the name had stuck. In this beautiful example from the Shanxi Provincial Museum we see the swelling and voluptuous form characteristic of Tang vessels can be seen accentuated by the running glazes. 

Qingbai Ware of the Yuan Dynasty

With the Mongol unification of china in 1279 AD Kublai Khan took the helm a long and strong ceramic culture in China. Viewing the ceramic arts from the production and profit side of things the Mongol rulers had great influence on the production style of ceramics. The southern counterpart to ding ware in the north, the qingbai ware of the Yuan Dynasty leaves behind the influence of the bronze forms and steps into its own with respect to both form and decoration. In this beautiful example from the Freer collection the delicate and intricate carving highlighted by the pooling of the transparent glaze beautifully responds to the meiping (or plum blossom) form. Broken into three registers the floral decorations swell to blossoms at the high and proud shoulder of this 13th century vase.  

Finding Peace in Simplicity

When approaching one of Mansfield’s pieces one is subdued mentally and physically. There is an etheric quiet that exudes from her work, it is strong and quiet, unassuming and welcoming. It matches its maker. When talking about her work, Mansfield invites the listener to participate in her perceptions of not just the work but the surrounding context in which the work was made. Indeed, what qualifies a good pot and what qualifies a good life in which to use and appreciate a good pot? So too, her location important in forming her work and as her work goes from the place where it was made if brings her warmth of personality and embrace of foundation wherever it goes.

Hispano Moresque Ware

 The art of Islamic Spain or Al-Andalus is referred to as Hispano Moresque in style and subsequently the ceramic art of this region is referred to as Hispano-Moresque ware. Seen Pictured is an Alhambra vase produced during the last kingdom in southern Spain before the Moors were driven from Spain in 1492 by united catholic Spain. Drawing on the tin white technology the ware began as sgrafito and brush work on a white field and eventually developed into elaborate plates and bowls and even vases such as this. With its stylized Kufic letters incorporated into the gold-on-white designs and floral conventions displayed in the white-on-gold registers the piece is thought to be a symbol of divine authority and providence.

Arretine Red Slip Ware

 Aretino Slip Ware (ASW) or African Res Slip-ware (ARS) were two highly refined, and highly similar, styles of pottery in the late Roman ceramics traditions. Deriving their name from the Terra Sigillatta applied to the surface this ware represented a high point in Italian ceramics that would only return after the introduction of Hispano Moresque ware some time later. Ranging from Iberia to the edge of the Byzantine Empire the trade of this fine ware was a roman ambassador to many cultures. Made with sprig molds or thrown inside of a mold on the potter’s wheel this ware was the closest approach to a glaze until the use of tin/lead glazes by the potters of Islam and Persia. As seen in the example pictured, the slip approaches a glossy surface and the fine grained nature of the sigillatta made this ware excellent for the drinking vessels of the Roman elite.

The Satisfying Nature Of A Mature Aesthetic

Interacting with a well-developed, mature body of work is one of the most pleasing things about observing potters that have been making consistently over a length of time. Jeff Oestreich’s functional ware is a wonderful example of work that has had a chance to come into its own with respect to well matched form, function and surface treatments. The geometrically inspired motifs both in form and designs are complimented by clean uniform glazes that break nicely over the changes in form and hold the lines of designs with integrity. Ranging from tea bowls like the one pictured above throughout the gambit of functional pottery each piece is individual and so too are the people who interact with the work. While one cannot be in two places at the same time Oestreich’s work achieves a metaphorical connection across time and space with people’s lives he has touched across the globe.

Capturing The "Commanding Heights"

 Reification of Power” is an apt title to ascribe to John Williams’ Commodities Series. Meaning the objectification of an abstract idea in to a concrete thing, reification of power is a delightfully evocative idea, especially when applied to the imagery present in Williams’ work. The stark white porcelain and gold plated silver are not idly chosen for these pieces either. The golden implements with little evident regard for hierarchical scale not only comment on mechanical and electrical power but also the sources of power in our culture and the materials that define it. The environmental critique is clear, concise, and poignant without being heavy handed and thus refreshing in its new approach to power generation, transmission, and retention. Indeed he has captured well the “Commanding Heights”

Richard DeVore: Firm Foundation In A False Bottom.


          The work of Richard DeVore (1933-2006) examines the conversation between surface and form in a remarkably elegant manner. The pieces are of simple composition however this is part of their magic; the body of work hosts such unending variety amongst slightly differing forms. Beginning with an almost hemispherical bowl form in the pictured piece, a series of false bottoms invite the viewer to peer ever deeper through their inky depths. This naturally draws the eye and the viewer closer to the piece where one begins to notice the subtle effects of the glazes. A gentle mottling around the pass-through in the false bottom is reminiscent of an eye and indeed is worthy of long, introspective gazes. The very simplicity of composition makes the piece all the more readily accessible for long pondering without weariness. The work is truly a calm, dark, cool, place of rest and reflection amidst the tempest of contemporary distractions.

Early Pottery: The Jōmon Culture

Pictured here is a wonderful example of the flame-ware of the middle Jōmon period (3000-2000 BC) of Paleolithic Japan. Also clearly represented is the straw-rope style of decoration for which the entire cultural period was named; the word Jōmon meaning literally “rope patterned”. The only true example of a culture that practiced coil built pottery the delicacy of decoration and elaborate upper 1/3 of the piece is hugely impressive even today. It is thought that due to the idyllic nature of the islands on which the Jōmon people lived and the abundance of terrestrial and marine resources, they were able to develop culturally and artistically long before their contemporaries. Without any claim to authority I see the creative power of surplus evidenced quite clearly. Even the name of this style of pottery; “flame-ware”, speaks to the poetry of observed fingers of flame. The beauty of dancing flames I believe has long inspired artists, specifically potters. All one must do is ask a wood fire potter about their surface designs and listen to the passionate and often poetically beautiful conception of the path of the flame. A burial cult in the Jōmon culture contributed largely to the preservation of the pots we now have today, for example preserving the elaborate decorations on the pictured example.

Similar to the phenomenon of well-developed coastal pottery is the example of the Timucua culture of my native Florida. While the oldest known sherds from the region date to ~4000 years before present they only began practicing agriculture in any significant way about 500 years before the Spaniards arrived. Archaeological study of the shell middens throughout the coastal region and the records of the Spanish speak to the reliance on abundant estuarine resources rather than organized agriculture. The Timucua pots never achieved the same level of decoration as the Jōmon however there are records of the Spanish outsourcing the production of cook-ware in Saint Augustine to a Timucua village nearby to the north. Similar also is the presence of “cord-marked” ware drawing yet another parallel of these two coastal, pottery-making cultures.

Aeneas escaping from Troy carrying his father Anchises

This marvelously detailed figurine is a mold –made representation of Aeneas escaping from Troy carrying his father Anchises. Found in Pompeii and dating to the first century AD it would have been brightly painted however little of the pigment remains. This little figure represents much more than the literal subject matter for it also implies a cultural shift in progress. A transition was beginning in the Italian peninsula and drifting away from the manufacture Grecian style pottery towards a large scale production of cheaply made terracotta figurines. The functional ware traded much of its visual grandeur for a much more pragmatic simplicity. Gone too are the ornate stylings of the Bucchero earthenware of the Etruscans and in its place rises the molded red-ware of the Italians. Represented in this little figurine too are the improvements in kiln technology necessitated by mass production. As manufacture of these types of figurines increased they also became culturally normative authorities. As the people traveled, so did their trinkets which illustrated “the Roman image”. Locally distinctive styles of manufacture existed within the Roman Empire however all had a similar vocabulary of subject matter linked literally or figuratively to the various deities or events in history such as the narrative pictured here.