This is a Flash Amination.
中文 English 日本語

Carvings from the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties

        Carving can be considered one of the earliest art forms in China. Archaeological excavations and documents suggest that early man in ancient Chinese society was already able to employ natural materials such as jade, stone, bamboo, wood, bone, horn, and ivory, to produce both functional and decorative artifacts. As early as six to seven thousand years ago ivory carvings were already being produced, evidenced by their discovery at a Neolithic Ho-mu-tu Culture site in Chekiang province. Remains of wooden artifacts from late Shang dynasty have also been unearthed at Anyang in Honan province.

        Despite the long existence of carving throughout Chinese history, few texts record its development in any great detail. Reflecting this deficiency is the lack of artisan's names associated with particular carved works. A Yuan dynasty book records the name of Chan Ch'eng, a Sung dynasty craftsman, who as of this date is the earliest carver known by name in Chinese history.

        By the Ming dynasty, scholars became accustomed to painstakingly furnishing their studios with highly decorative ink stones and other refined, exquisite carvings. These scholarly items served as usable implements and as decorative table ornaments. Concurrently, the improved economic conditions in China led to the desire of affluent businessmen and merchants to imitate these outward signs of refined learning and scholarship. Artisans were permitted to exercise greater artistic freedom, resulting in a gradual refinement of the works produced in this period.

        By the Ch'ing dynasty, the customs and traditions of the former dynastic period continued to prevail: scholars and wealthy merchants still cherished finely detailed carvings, and eventually this tradition was also adopted by the imperial household. Artisans from the populace were selected to serve in the Imperial Workshops. These artisan-carvers could be distinguished into northern and southern regional groups, and under Ch'ing imperial sponsorship the development of carving style and technique progressed rapidly, reaching an extremely high level of accomplishment by the reign of the Ch'ien-lung emperor.

        There was a succession of many highly skilled carvers throughout both the Ming and Ch'ing periods. These artisans produced a large corpus of expertly crafted and artistic pieces, though most of their names have not survived. Occasionally, brief descriptions about specific artisans have appeared in historical documents, but often all that remains is the carver's name. Carved artifacts bearing the artisan's name remain, but too often there is no way to verify or substantiate these findings.

        In addition to the imperial artisans, there were also many local, highly skilled, professional carvers. Examples of famous carved regional products are: stone carvings from Ch'ing-t'ien in Chekiang province, and Shoushan in Fukien province; bamboo carvings from Nanking and Chia-ting; hardwood furniture from Kwangchow and Yangchow; box-wood carvings from Chekiang; and ivory carvings from Kwangchow. The works of these regional schools are all known for their rounded contours and semi-polished lustre. The Chia-ting region bamboo carvings were known for special attention to minute detail, as well as works carved from bamboo sections and shoots. The ivory carvings of the Kwangchow regions were noted for their delicacy and ivory thread embroidery; while Peking region excelled in free-standing ivory figurines and colored, inlaid ivory works. Within the individual regions, the artistic style was not homogeneous, but varied from one artisan to another. Among the bamboo carvers of the Chia-ting region, Chou Hao was famous for his use of the engraving technique to illustrate the Southern School landscape, Wu Chih-fan was acclaimed for his skill in "stiacciato relief carving" and the Feng family (Feng Hsi-chueh, Feng Hsi-lu, Feng Hsi-chang and their descendants) were particularly known for their carved bamboo-shoot figurines.

        Because of the various materials that can be utilized, the art of carving has been distinguished into several sub-classifications; however, during the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties many carvers worked in more than one medium. In the Ming period, Chu Hsiao-sung of the Chia-ting region specialized in bamboo carvings, but a few of his works in wood also survive. In the Ch'ing dynasty, the imperial artisan Yang Wei-chan, a native of Canton province, worked chiefly in ivory, but the Aloeswood Carving of the Nine Old Men of Hsiang Mountain also demonstrates that he worked in wood.

        The present exhibition is a selection of Ming and Ch'ing dynasty bamboo, wood, ivory, rhinoceros horn, and fruit stone and nutshell carvings from the museum collection, by both imperial as well as local artisans.

  Author: Chi, Jo-hsin

Copyright © National Palace Museum. All Rights Reserved.