Necklace with a pendant depicting the Hindu deity Lakshmi with elephants
1800-1900, Tamil Nadu, India. Gold, rubies, and rudraksha beads.
L. 17 in x W. 3 ½ in, L. 43.2 cm x W. 8.9 cm
(via Asian Art Museum)
The conservation department continues to treat a wide variety of objects for the BKM’s Asian gallery reinstallation. Each of these pieces has a fascinating history. This white enamel tray and cover portray a variety of imagery, primarily focused around food. While the decorative floral design elements and lavender rope borders are typical on European ceramics, Joan Cummins, the Brooklyn Museum’s Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator of Asian Art states that “this service is really eccentric for its emphasis on food imagery; you would think it would be a more popular subject, but food almost never shows up on porcelain dishes. The distinctive motifs and the fact that the family name is on the rim instead of on a coat of arms at the center of the plate suggest that the person who ordered the dishes was really specific about what he wanted, probably providing colored drawings of how each type of vessel should look. That didn’t usually happen.” The pieces depict fish, ducks, vegetable and animal vignettes throughout. Additionally, the cover’s sides portray hunting and maritime scenes, as well as a coat of arms. This coat of arms likely belongs to the family for whom this dinner service was made, whose name is incorporated into the design: Saldanha du Albuquerque.
This tray and cover is part of a larger Saldanha dinner service which contains over 200 pieces. The Brooklyn Museum has several other porcelain pieces from this service, and you can see a remarkably similar piece in the MFA Boston collection as well. The decoration is nearly indistinguishable from the enamel, suggesting that the same artists may have decorated both the porcelain and the enamel wares.
Dr. Cummins also told us: “What’s particularly fun about this object is that it is enameled metal, whereas most of the pieces in the service are porcelain… Until you pick the metal pieces up, you are unlikely to guess that they’re not porcelain because they match the rest of the service so well. This is really unusual: of the thousands of porcelain services sent to Europe from China only a handful included metal pieces. There is a chance that the same artists decorated both the metal and the porcelain pieces… Normally we would assume that metals and porcelains were made by completely different workshops, but this set seems to offer evidence that there was some sharing of resources.”
Stay tuned… next week we will write about the treatment of this unique tray and cover.
Day 23 - Which god/goddess would you have wanted to see in WicDiv?
When I was doing my PhD, my minor field was in East Asian Buddhist art. So that really informs which deity I would have wanted to see in WicDiv. I know that using non-Western gods from living religions is a complicated undertaking for a Western creative team and predominantly Western audience, so I’m ultimately not disappointed to have the pantheon we do. Having said that, this might have been an interesting addition:
a creepy naked baby in this painting because it became common to pray
to Kannon for children, which I think would be a tragic and compelling aspect of including Kannon in WicDiv, as this is a cast of young
people who are going to die, and I often think about the parents and their grief in all this.)
I say “deity” in this post rather than “god” or “goddess” because Kannon is technically genderless. Actually, let me back up. Kannon is often called the goddess of compassion or mercy, but I think that might carry some Western influence, because Kannon is sometimes conflated with or analogous to the Virgin Mary in certain periods of Japanese history due to religious conversion tactics and, later, persecution. But Kannon is supposed to be able to take on whichever form will most ease the suffering of the one who has called to them. In art, at first Kannon is depicted as mostly male and then this shifts to mostly female, but sometimes they are depicted very explicitly as both genders at once, with a feminine appearance but a male chest and distinct facial hair.
I think that having a deity of compassion around would be super useful considering what this pantheon has gone through. I also think that a Bodhisattva makes a lot of sense given the mythology of WicDiv, because they are enlightened beings who delay their ascension from this world to ease the suffering and help enlighten those still on Earth. This idea of staying behind for a greater good sounds familiar, no? Not to mention the visual tradition of an explicitly gender fluid or a non-passing trans deity (depending on how you wanted to interpret things) would likely find a good home within the diverse representation in this book.
I’d have loved to see what McKelvie would have done with the appearance and design of Kannon. Probably something along the lines of Amaterasu considering how iconic Kannon’s white robe is in paintings of them. I could see a Florence/compassion connection, easily. But given Kannon’s ability to relieve suffering by appearing in different forms to those in need, that shapeshifting component makes me think of someone like Cher, who is just such an incredible chameleon in terms of her style. Since Bowie and Sisters of Mercy aren’t exactly contemporary pop stars, I feel like Cher wouldn’t be a totally out of place reference.
Today the Department of Awesome Antiquities learned that someone back in China’s Qing Dynasty was so fond of pork that they commissioned the creation of this mouthwatering work of art: a piece of jasper sculpted to resemble a succulent piece of Dongpo rou (braised pork belly).
“You may not have heard of the exiled Song Dynasty Chinese poet Su Shi, nicknamed Su Dongpo, but you’re likely familiar with the dish named for him: dongpo rou, or braised pork belly, the succulent hunk of meat topped off with a soft and sinful layer of fat. Legend has it that Dongpo, also a gastronome, invented the slow-cooked dish by accident; but no matter its origins, it eventually emerged as a popular Chinese delicacy — one so beloved that nearly 200 years ago, an anonymous Qing dynasty artist working for the emperor immortalized its oil-slicked form, sculpting a piece of jasper into a fleshy lump meticulously finished with wrinkles, dimples, and even a soy sauce-marinated rind.”