I originally encountered celadons—named for the color of their soft green glazes—many decades ago while still a student in England. I was mesmerized by their subtle and subdued tones, so soothing on the eye, and amazed that they were so old—some over a thousand years—yet seemed so modern.
Many celadons, like the sublime vase above, rely purely on glaze and elegant form. In the West until the 20th century, decoration was a hallmark of value—the more decoration, the better. But with these celadons, the opposite is the case: decoration is subservient to glaze, or even considered a distraction and totally eliminated.
This vase was created in south China sometime in the 14th century, while the country was under the rule of the Mongols, and probably imitated a metalwork form crafted in bronze. On the bronze original the ring handles would have been movable and could have been used to suspend the piece, but here they are frozen in place by the thick glaze.
We don’t know who originally owned the piece, but it may well have been a member of the Chinese scholar class. At the time, scholars were disbarred from their traditional roles as government officials. The soothing tones of this vase, I can imagine, might have comforted the owner and his friends as they wrestled with their diminished status. They would certainly have admired it as the epitome of ya, or elegance.
This exquisite work—and other celadons in the collection—still speak to us across the centuries. In contemplating their beauty, I hope that you, like many others before you, find a quiet moment of peace.
—Colin C. Mackenzie, curator of Chinese art
Explore Chinese Celadons From the Collection
- From the Curator