A Transitional Blue and White Porcelain Brushpot, Shunzhi 1644 – 1661.
A Transitional Blue and White porcelain ‘Bitong’, Brushpot, early Qing dynasty 1644-1661. Decorated in vivid tones of cobalt-oxide with landscapes. The base is unglazed and the rim is dressed with an iron-oxide glaze.
- One minute frit 1mm or less.
- Height : 16cm (6 1/4 inches).
- NICOLAS THOMPSON COLLECTION : Nicholas de la Mare Thompson (1928-2010), the grandson of the author Walter de la Mare spent his career in publishing. He started at Nesbit where he was editor of the Janet and John series of children’s books but not all of his career was so safe. He wrestled with W.H. Smith over the content of Madonna’s raunchy Sex book on behalf of Paul Hamlyn’s Octopus Group and defeated Margaret Thatcher over Spycatcher. He could not bare dogma or hypocrisy. It was hardly surprising that as a committee member of the O.C.S. he had his own ideas. He read and could recite great swaths of the articles of the Society, he used this not to attack but to stimulate debate. He approached the Society in the same way as he approached his understanding of Chinese ceramics, by stripping it down and starting again using clear empirical thinking. He was very concerned the Society was open to all and was run for the benefit of all members. Nicholas came from a family of collectors, his love of oriental ceramics was broad but his focus was on early monochromes, especially those from the Song dynasty. He bought what he loved, what he thought had merit, not what was said to be good, and certainly not anything because it was fashionable. He didn’t have a stamp collectors approach, filling in the gaps of pre-existing ordered collection, rather he would react to an object, feeling it was right for his collection. Sometimes he wasn’t sure if it was right for his collection or not. He would then “borrow” pieces and live with them, other times he would ask his wife Caroline, who’s eye he trusted, if he should keep the piece or not. He was amused because I was often able to know if he would keep a piece before he did. We discussed “pots” endlessly, he loved to talk about ceramics with a wide variety of people, and enjoyed the company of others on O.C.S. trips as well as in discussion groups or anywhere else. Later on he combined his love of Chinese ceramics with his love of books by extending his library to include rare early books, he used these to trace the development of collecting and scholarship in the 19th and early 20th century. He was fascinated by earlier scholarship, what was not understood but also what they understood and we have lost. He was always reading and wanted to know more right up to the end, he didn’t see impending death as a barrier to knowledge or indeed collecting. The week before he died he questioned, if only for a second, whether it was too late to buy another pot for the collection. He concluded it was not, he was a true collector. Nicolas died on the 25th of April 2010 at the age of 82 after living with cancer for two years. He leaves behind his energetically supportive wife Caroline and his three children. He was a kind, gentle and incredibly civilised man with a very sharp mind and dry sense of humour, he was passionate about the Society, its aims and its members. He was an incredibly supportive and thoughtful friend and is very much missed .
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Brushpots / Bitong :
Bitong, brushpots are not found in 17th or early 18th century European inventories unlike some other ceramic forms which fore fill a specific Chinese function. Blanc de chine `libation cups`, were for example, made for drinking wine in China but they were imported in large numbers to the West. There curious forms appealed to Western tastes and were used in European displays or converted with the addition of a gilt bronze handle to become a bonbon dishes. Brushpots on the other hand seem to have been made exclusively for the Chinese domestic market and perhaps also for Chinese scholars in South East Asia. Bitong are an essential part of literati`s desk equipment, what is often referred to as a scholars desk. Other scholarly items for the desk might include a brush-rest, inkstone (for grinding the dry ink) a water pot for the water to add to the inkstone, a brushwasher as well as a table screen. Like other scholar`s objects they were made in a diverse range of material from natural gnarled branches of trees, highly polished wood, jade, bamboo to name but a few. Brush-rests were used for keeping the brush from making stains on the scholar`s table in between use while the scholar was working, while brush pots were used for storing the brushes when they were not being used.
Shunzhi 1644-1661 :
The Shunzhi emperor (lived 1638 to 1661) was the second emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty, and the first Qing emperor to rule over China proper. He ascended to the throne aged five (six sui according to traditional Chinese count) in 1643 upon the death of his father, Hong Taiji, but actual power during the early part of his reign lay in the hands of the appointed regents, Princes Dorgon and Jirgalang. With the Qing pacification of the former Ming provinces almost complete, he died still a young man, although in circumstances that have lent themselves to rumour and speculation. In the midst of much upheaval, the Manchus seized control of Beijing in June 1644, and in October of the same year the Shunzhi emperor`s uncle, the chief regent Prince, proclaimed the Qing dynasty to be the legitimate successor to the Ming dynasty. Therefore, although the Shunzhi emperor was not the founder of the Qing dynasty, he was the first Qing emperor of China. His mother was Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang Wen who was an excellent politician during the period. The young emperor disliked his uncle, the chief regent Prince Dorgon, and after Dorgon`s death in 1650 the emperor stripped both him and Dorgon`s brother, Prince Dodo, of their titles, although he was only 12 years old at the time. During his short reign, the Shunzhi emperor encouraged the Han Chinese to participate in government activities. He was a scholar and employed Han Chinese to teach his children. The emperor married his mother`s niece, but demoted the empress several years later. Four months after his favourite concubine passed away, he died of smallpox. Before he passed away, he appointed four regents to help his son, Hiowan Yei. They were Oboi, Sonin, Suksaha and Ebilun. It was believed that the young emperor did not pass away but left the palace to become a monk.
The Transitional Period :
The roots of this unsettled period starts during the later part of Wanli`s reign (1573-1620). At the begging of his reign China was doing very well, new crops from the Americas such as peanuts, maize and sweet potatoes increased food production, while simplified taxes helped the state run smoothly. But this was not due to Wanli`s enlightened reign, but to his Mother championing a man that was to become the Ming dynasties most able minister, Zhang Zhuzheng (1525—1583). Wanli became resentful of Zhuzheng`s control but upon his death became withdrawn from court life. Between 1589 to 1615 he didn`t appear at imperial audiences, leaving a power vacuum that was filled by squabbling ministers. Mongols from the North raided as Japan invaded Korea. Wanli re-opened the silver mines and imposed new taxes but the money was lost due to corruption, as well as being frittered away by the indulgent Emperor himself . The next emperor of Ming China, Tianqi (1621-1627), was bought up in this self indulgent disorganised environment, at the very young age 15 his short reign started. He didn`t stand a chance. Tianqi made the mistake of entrusting eunuch Wei Zhongxian (1568-1627) who Anna Paludan in her excellent book "Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors" (Thames and Hudson, 1998) describes as "a gangster of the first order". Tianqi was deemed to have lost the Mandate of heaven by the Ming people. Tianqi`s younger brother, the last of the Ming Emperors, Chongzhen (1628-1644), was not able to save the situation. The systems of administration had broken down, corruption was rife and so when a sever famine broke out in 1628 nothing much could be done. Anna Paludan describes the tragic end to the great Ming Dynasty "The final drama was worthy of a Greek tragedy. The emperor called a last council in which `all were silent and many wept`, the imperial troops fled or surrendered, and the emperor, after helping his two sons escape in disguise, got drunk and rushed through the palace ordering the women to kill themselves. The empress and Tianqi`s widow committed suicide; the emperor hacked off the arm of one daughter before killing her sister and the concubines. At dawn he laid his dragon robe aside and dressed in purple and yellow, with one foot bare, climbed the hill behind the now silent palace and hanged himself on a locust tree". The Great Wall of China, started 2,000 years ago was built to protect China from the Northern barbarian hoards, it was often tested and sometimes failed. The Jin people invaded China, ruling the North between 1115 and 1234, it was their descendants the Manchus, Jurchens from south east Manchuria that took full advantage of the problems of the Ming dynasty. In 1636 they adopted a Chinese dynastic name, the `Great Qing` (Qing meaning pure). The first of the Qing emperors was Shunzhi (1644-1661) but for most of his reign his uncle ran the state. War raged on during this period and it wasn`t until the second Qing emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) that true peace was achieved. Kangxi was a wise and educated man, he became a highly successful emperor bringing China a long period of wealth and stability.