Notebook, 1993-


GLASS - Glossary - <A List of Museums and Galleries

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Glass - Chinese

Glass was known in China from the Han dynasty [206 B.C.-A.D. 220] onwards, but it is uncertain whether the Chinese made any before the fifth century A.D., although they were acquainted with Roman and Syrian glass and were using a lead silicate glaze in the making of pottery. They appear to have regarded glass as an inferior type of jade and carved it in the same way. A pi and a cicada-shaped tongue amulet in the Victoria and Albert Museum may date from the Han dynasty. The Chinese were very slow to adopt such European techniques as glass-blowing, and Father Ricci refers to glass-blowing in his day [1583-1610] by saying that it fell far short of European workmanship. By the reign of K'ang Hsi [1622-1722] the technique had been largely mastered, but the metal was defective and crisselling a common fault.

There was a Dutch Jesuit in charge of the mission during the reign of K'ang Hsi who may have interested himself in the glass industry, since specimens at the Victoria and Albert Museum have both Dutch and Venetian influence, but the initial technical difficulties seem never entirely to have been overcome, and by the reign of Ch'ien Lung [1736-96] glass was once more being decorated in the manner of jade and other hardstones. Glass of one colour cased with that of another was employed in this way, and some fine examples exist which, but for the material, would be much better classified as hardstone carving. Glass snuff-bottles for the most part imitate those of hardstone. Some rare enameling on opaque white glass is the Ku Yüeh Hsüan technique discussed under the heading of Pottery and Porcelain. Although painting on glass was the earlier, it seems that opaque white glass was being used for the same purpose as it was so often used in eighteenth-century Europe, as a porcelain substitute, probably at the suggestion of a Western merchant who may have imported some European glass of the kind.

Sheet glass for mirror- and glass-painting was imported from France and England, and attempts to make it in Canton were unsuccessful.

Chinese glass is represented at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Ku Yüeh Hsüan technique in the Percival David Foundation, Gordon Square, London. [pp. 244-245]

[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]



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