Liverpool artwork of the day – Tuesday July 31 2007. Beaker, Ming dynasty. probably Wanli reign (1573 – 1620), c1600 Cloisonné enamel on copper at Lady Lever
After Chinese connoisseurs began to collect archaic bronze vessels in the Tang dynasty (618 – 906), it became common to copy bronze forms in other materials. The form of this vessel is not genuinely archaic but is made to appear so by the addition of four cast ribs to the sides.
The beaker is one of a pair and would originally have been accompanied by an incense burner and two candlesticks to form a temple altar set. The Buddhist decoration of scrolling lotus flowers symbolizes Enlightenment.
The cloisonné enamel technique involves soldering a pattern of wires onto a metal surface; the enclosed areas (cloisons) are filled with enamel colours which are then fired and polished to create a smooth, sparkling surface. On the base of this beaker is a Jingtai reign mark (1450 – 1456). Such markings are not an attempt to deceive, but to pay homage to what the Chinese consider to have been the classic period for this art form.
Although technical perfection was achieved in the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911), the bolder forms and richer colours of the earlier period compare favourably with the fussier, more glittery style of the 18th and 19th centuries.