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Ceramic Pillow with Landscape Scenes – Zhang Family Workshop

Ceramic Pillow with Landscape Scenes - Zhang Family Workshop

Ceramic Pillow with Landscape Scenes

– Zhang Family Workshop

This porcelain pillow was made nearly 800 years ago by members of the Zhang family who are among the few potters and painters whose names are recorded in Chinese ceramic history. This pillow is richly decorated with a landscape showing four people among trees and mountains. The ownership of a porcelain pillow and the images on it attest to the person’s status in life and death. A Porcelain Pillow had multiple meanings within the bedroom depending on its design. It also it had significance and cultural purpose within a grave and the afterlife.  In the tomb, porcelain pillow demonstrated the success and the worth to the ancestors in their earthly role.

The prevalent use of porcelain pillows or neck supports in ancient China was due to the auspicious meanings in the blessings and paintings on the pillows which were given as gifts. Also, a porcelain pillow was seen as a useful, cooling device during the heat of summer. It also played a symbolic role in life and death to show status and wealth. The poorer sections of the population used wood and bamboo for head and neck supports to escape the heat of summer.

Chinese Ceramics

Chinese ceramics are one of the most significant forms of Chinese art and range from construction materials such as bricks and tiles, to hand-built pottery vessels fired in bonfires or kilns, to the advanced Chinese porcelain wares made for the imperial court and export. Porcelain is so identified with China that it is still called “China” in everyday English usage.

Porcelain pillows were first introduced during the Sui and Tang dynasties (581 to 907 AD), when a range of ceramics, low-fired and high-fired, were produced. The later Mongol Yuan dynasty brought significant stylistic and technical influence from the Islamic world in the form of blue and white porcelain, with underglaze painting in cobalt.

Reflections

  • What is your favourite sleeping aid?
  • Was the primary role of the porcelain pillow to act as a visual stimulant and a vehicle for dreams?
  • Was this porcelain pillow used mainly in tombs and not in life?
  • Where ancient Chinese ceramic pillows effective in keeping the head cool during the stifling summer heat?
  • Did ancient Chinese ceramic pillows ward off evil spirits?
  • What was the primary role of the Chinese ceramic pillow?

Explore the Asian Art Collection in the MET

Ceramics Pillow with Landscape Scenes

  • Title:            Pillow with Landscape Scenes
  • Date:            13th–14th century
  • Artist:          Zhang Family Workshop
  • Culture:      Jin (1115–1234)–Yuan (1271–1368) dynasty
  • Geography: China
  • Medium:    Stoneware with painted decoration over white slip under clear glaze (Cizhou ware)
  • Dimensions: H. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm); W. 7 3/8 in. (18.7 cm); L. 17 1/8 in. (43.5 cm)
  • Museum:      Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

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“It’s better to be without a book than to believe a book entirely.”
– Chinese Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM

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