Each of these miniature vases were made during the Qing Dynasty in China. This dynasty lasted from 1636-1912, however, St. Olaf’s collection contains pieces from the latter half of the Qing Dynasty rule, from 1723-1850. Miniature vases such as these were not very common at this time. They did not serve as functional objects, instead, they were most likely collected for their aesthetic appeal. The collector must have focused on the varying vase shapes, designs, and glaze colors of miniature ceramics and desired to showcase a large sample of miniature vases. These vases would have been stored in curio cabinets. Curio cabinets were intricately carved wooden boxes made for housing beautiful, miniature objects, or to be filled with practical cosmetic items and used as an “overnight bag” for traditional literati scholars. Each object would have had its own drawer, and in more expensive cabinets, each drawer was custom-made to fit the item that it would hold.

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This deep pink-colored vase was made during the Yongzheng Emperor’s rule (1723-1735) and has famille rose crimson pink glaze. It may also have some opaque lead-arsenic white glaze added to it to make it a lighter shade. Ceramics with this glaze are fired at a low temperature in an enameling or muffle kiln, around eight hundred degrees celsius.

This bright yellow vase was probably made during the Qianlong Emperor’s rule (1736-1795). The two-lobed gourd shape of this vase was common during that time, as was the bow “tied” around the middle. This vase would have been fired under low temperatures.

This vase has a darkened crackle design and a low, simulated bronze relief (sculpture against a two-dimensional background) of leaves. This technique is called applied moulded decoration and was typically attached to a crackled background, as seen here. These reliefs can range from high to low, but this one is quite low. This vase was probably from the Qianlong era (1736-1795).

This flask-shaped vase, thought to have been made during the Qianlong Emperor’s rule (1736-1795), is made to represent a leather flask that must have existed during that time. When a ceramic is made to represent an object of another medium, it is called a “skewermorph”. Other mediums typically represented by skewermorphs are bronze or cloth, and the highest quality ceramics would have been almost impossible to tell from the object it was representing unless the viewer could examine it closely. This representation of a flask is fired in celadon glaze, which includes a wide range of green-blue hues.

This white, rectangular vase was made between 1821 and 1850, when Emperor Daoguang was in power. It features a small crackle design and the yin and yang symbols on each side. These are the Confucian symbol for the Absolute and symbolize the duality of nature, with yin being female and yang being male.

This plum-shaped vase is colored using a sang de boeuf glaze called Ox Blood. Ceramics with this glaze have a greenish-grey tone at the top, and quickly transitions into red. There is usually a slight color variation throughout the piece. The thick glaze ends abruptly at the foot of the ceramic where it returns to white, demonstrating the artist’s complete control of the glaze.

This white vase uses underglaze enamel to depict the story of Zhong Kui, “the demon queller”. Zhong Kui’s story begins when he travels to the capital to take his imperial examinations, the required exam for anyone wishing to be an academic. Zhong Kui got perfect marks, however, the emperor denied the title of zhuangyuan (scholar) because of his physical deformations. Outraged, Zhong Kui committed suicide by slamming his head into the palace door until he died. He was condemned to hell because he killed himself, however, the devil favored him because of his high intelligence. He let Zhong Kui become the king of ghosts, protector of the living, and it became his mission to maintain order of the ghosts and demons. In this image, Zhong Kui is in orange, killing the man-like demon below him. The upside-down bat on the left is a traditional Chinese symbol of presently arriving good fortune.

This white vase, made while the Qianlong Emperor was in power (1736-1795), is decorated with a “crackled” effect. Glazes crackle when the piece is fired at two different temperatures. This causes the outer glaze to crack, but it does not break. To accentuate the lines, as shown in this vase, the cracks can be darkened by rubbing them with tea.

Peach-Bloom Glaze Brush Washer

The red-pink color of this particular brush washer was achieved through the use of a peach-bloom glaze, an innovation that emerged during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) under the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1661-1772). The glaze is made from copper and produces a range of red and pink hues, often speckled with green dots. It was usually applied to porcelain, a highly malleable clay material that is used in creating thin, elegant objects. Porcelain’s pure white color allows for ease in surface decoration and coloring. Technological innovations during the Qing Dynasty allowed for greater production of peach bloom glaze and porcelain, thus increasing their visibility within scholar’s studios. Furthermore, this combination produced an elegant, monochromatic effect – a preferred aesthetic of Chinese scholars.

White Porcelain Bowl with Red Copper Glaze

This object’s advanced glazed porcelain, white with copper glaze that is fired and then refired with glaze, indicates that it must be from after 1400 C.E, although a more specific date identification is difficult. The lines of the copper detail are unclear and faded, while the actual subject matter on the bowl is rather plain. This probably indicates that this object is not from an imperial kiln, but rather a private, perhaps black-market kiln that produces facsimiles of imperial objects for upper-middle class individuals seeking a higher social status. The object takes on a basic, crude shape quite similar to the hourglass shape of Shang and some early Zhou bronzes and ceramics. The detail of the vessel corroborates this: the layered aspect of detail is a motif seen throughout Shang objects. Most notable is the square spiral band across the top of the object. Most Chinese art after the Shang/Zhou shifts towards “curved”, more graceful bands, but here the spirals start and end abruptly, unusual for the technology of the object. This is the most significant sign that the object seeks to reinvigorate artistic styles of past dynasties.

Guan Ware

This pale-blue crackled flower vase was considered a rarity among Song era (12 th -13 th c) guan stonewares. Guan wares could be found regularly in a scholar’s study room, and often consisted of straightforward designs representing brush washers and flower vases. This affinity towards the unadorned, simple shapes and decoration reflected the ethics of Song literati and evoked a sense of antiquity that carried on through generations of scholars. The term guan (“official”) came into use after north China was seized by neighboring tribes, leading the Song emperor to establish his new capital and court in Hangzhou in East China. At this new court, imperial kilns were used to fire unique vessels. This vessel represents one of the five “official court wares” that was so greatly admired during the Qing court of the eighteenth century.