Monthly Archives: November 2011

Emperor Qianlong’s hidden Palace


The restoration  of a lavish suite in the Forbidden City of the Quin Dynasty


Beijing’s sprawling Forbidden City—the size of 135 football fields—is a dizzying array of magnificent receiving halls and intimate quarters surrounded by 28-foot-thick walls. Yet in the northeast tip of the compound lies a unique two-acre retreat, known simply as the “Qianlong Garden”

Juanqinzhai Palace

For decades stories circulated among art historians of a mothballed Qing Dynasty retreat within the Forbidden City,( the Imperial behemoth with 8,700 rooms that anchors the Chinese capital}). Word eventually reached the World Monuments Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving imperiled historic sites. Six years and $3 million later the first building of the Palace of  Tranquillity and Longevity ( Juanqinzhai ) had been meticulously restored ( see above )  and will open to the public in the coming months.

When restorers opened the door on the Qianlong Emperor’s favourite studio in the Forbidden City, dust three inches thick on the exquisitely carved surfaces bore testament to decades of abandonment. “It felt like the last emperor had just turned the key in the door and left,” was the verdict of one expert. The studio was built in the late 18th century as part of a bigger retirement retreat by the Qianlong Emperor. He died in 1795 before the building was completed but Juanqinzhai was finished exactly as he wanted – a mini-palace within a palace.

Originally built in 1776, during the 41st year of Qianlong’s 60-year reign, Juanqinzhai was part of a two-acre complex of ornate gardens and pavilions designed by the emperor for his own pleasure and to use as a retreat for meditation and writing poetry. The rooms of Juanqinzhai, which included a theatre, were built from the finest materials, including bamboo-threaded flooring, white jade tablets and intricately painted silk wall panels. Only a few embroidery workers from Suzhou province still know the traditional techniques of the exquisite double-sided embroidery used in this project. In the Juanqinzhai’s studio, the emperor would display his favourite gemstones, ceramics, porcelain and artwork.

 The Qianlong Emperor spared no expense on construction materials for this palatial gem, whose 27 rooms were crafted of fine hardwoods lavishly inlaid with jade and porcelain. Inside, they brimmed with fantastic murals, priceless furnishings, and exotic decorative arts.


When the Qianlong emperor ascended to the Chinese throne in 1736, the 25-year-old monarch was one of the richest men in the world. He could afford to indulge his appetite for the finer things in life during his more than 60 years on the throne. His reign is considered one of the greatest periods in the history of Chinese art.

The Qianlong emperor was one of the longest-reigning and most enlightened rulers of the Chinese Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The Qing were Manchurian horsemen who, like other foreign rulers, absorbed the culture and administrative system of China.

The Qianlong Emperor was a major patron of the arts, seeing himself as an important “preserver and restorer” of Chinese culture. He had an insatiable appetite for collecting, and acquired much of China’s “great private collections” by any means necessary, and reintegrated their treasures into the imperial collection. Qianlong, more than any other Manchu emperor, lavished the imperial collection with his attention and effort. The Emperor was also particularly interested in collecting ancient bronzes, bronze mirrors and seals, in addition to pottery, ceramics and applied arts such as enameling, metal work and lacquer work, which flourished during his reign.

The emperor frequently invited foreign artists to Beijing to pass on their skills to his artisans. Europeans shared their knowledge of Western painting techniques, glassware, painted enamels and cloisonne. Mughal craftsmen from northern India were summoned to the palace workshops for their expertise in carving jade and glass.

The extravagance of the Qianlong Emperor was so great that he ultimately bankrupted the country. As the Taoists like to claim : “Like the yin and yang cycle of life; when one attains the maximum yang, there is only one direction to go.”


Qianlong-Emperor Brocade throne

Qianlong began his reign with about 33,950,000 taels of silver in Treasury surplus. At the peak of Qianlong’s reign, around 1775, even with further tax cuts, the treasury surplus still reached 73,900,000 taels, a record unmatched by his predecessors, Kangxi or Yongzheng both of whom had implemented remarkable tax cut policies

However, due to numerous factors such as long term embezzlement and corruption by officials, frequent expeditions South, huge palace constructions, many war and rebellion campaigns as well as his own extravagant lifestyle, all of these cost the treasury a total of 150,200,000 silver taels.This, coupled with his senior age and the lack of political reforms, ushered the beginning of the gradual decline and eventual demise of the Qing dynasty and empire, casting a shadow over his glorious and brilliant political life.

All the designs from the palace workshops in Beijing, which produced wares for the imperial family, were required to pass official muster. Therefore, most of the works produced during his reign were a fair representation of the emperor’s taste, which some claim reflects a near pinnacle of Chinese art.

Ceramic art from  the Qianlong era :

Qianlong square vase in a green celadon with ba qua symbpls

Qianlong Celadon Vase (1736-1795)

Circular mouth, short neck, tall and square body, foot ring.  The surface of the glaze is covered with a fine craquelé with sharp lines and a clear stratification with equally beautiful shallow and deep cracks. The four sides of the vase have the eight trigrams (bagua) in convex relief.

Qianlong rectangular baluster vase with tubular ears and ‘happiness’ and ‘longevity’ in underglaze blue

Rectangular baluster shaped vase with tubular ears and ‘happiness’ and ‘longevity’ in underglaze blue

 Vases with tubular ears are replicas of the touhu of the Han era: a type of pot used in a drinking game. These vases were current under the Song and also reproduced in the kilns at Jingdezhen under the Qing.

Qianlong Emperor fine porcelain vaseA fine porcelain from the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799 CE) of the Qing dynasty. (Courtesy of the National Palace Museum)




Emporer Qianlong purple teapot

Emperor  QianLong  liked drinking tea his whole life, this is one of his favoured purple teapots.




qianlong-vase-The mouth has been painted with a pattern of twined sprigs and pink lotuses, the belly with a pattern of twined sprigsA vase with eight  auspicious Buddhist emblems in fencai on turquoise.

This model is called a bumba vase after a type of ritual metal ewer used in monasteries and temples in the Tibetan region. They were used in the designation and succession of ‘living Buddhas and prodigies’: Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas. They stand witness to the intimate ties between the Qing court and  Tibetan Buddhism as well as  their mutual historical influences: a sort of cultural osmosis between the Chinese and the Tibetan world.

Qianlong Porcelain Box brush stand in underglaze blue   This brush stand in underglaze blue is a hollow parallelepiped with five round openings and one rectangular opening on top. The spaces between the openings are decorated with auspicious clouds in the shape of the classical Chinese character . The four sides have been painted with the ‘Eight Immortals’.



Alice Cheng's famille-rose vase Floral Medallion Bottle Gourd VaseA famille-rose vase, with the seal mark of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795). The vase sold at a Hong Kong auction for HK$252.7 million ($32.6 million) and was bought by collector Alice Cheng.



Qianlong Landscape Vase - painted in fencai with a forest full of deer frolicking between green pines and cypresses, cragged rocks and flowing creeks.Vase with ears in the shape of hornless dragons and a hundred deer in fencai

This hundred deer vase has been painted with a forest full of deer frolicking between green pines and cypresses, cragged rocks and flowing creeks.



Qianlong Pink Vase with figures of playing children and Indian lotus scrolls in fencai on red

Vase with figures of playing children and Indian lotus scrolls in fencai on red

Fencai (literally: ‘pastel colours’) is a type of overglaze decoration fired at low temperature. It has been produced from the times of the Qing emperor Kangxi. Firstly, the white clay is covered with a layer of glaze and fired at high temperature. Next, a polychromatic painting is applied and fired at less than 700oC.



Qianlong imitation celadon glaze (fangru) with 8 sets of vertical bow string decoartionQianlong Melon-shaped vase with imitation celadon glaze (fangru) with 8 sets of vertical bow strings.



Ritual Water Vessels. Photo by Mharrsch( Flickr)

Enameled Porcelain Vase Qing DynastyQing Dynaasty Yellow Porcelain Enameled Vase, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Photo by Mharrsch




Carved Dragon Amythest CupCarved Dragon Purple Amethyst Glass cup




Ming Pilgrim Flask

Pilgrim flask decorated with peaches and pomegrenates; Ming Dynasty, 1st half of 17th century

Museum Rietberg, Zurich




Ming Figurine reclining lady

Porcelain figurine

Ming Blue Vase

An Exceptionally Rare Blue-Glazed Flask-Form Ming Vase.

Christie’s Images




 ''clair de lune'' porcelain vase

A ”clair de lune” Qing dynasty porcelain vase .

Translucent, sky blue glaze of great quality. ( Photo Czerny’s )




blue glazed vase

Qianlong porcelain vase. 

18th century

Photo Czerny



Peter Karner Pottery

Peter Karner works full time from his home/studio at Hesperus in  the La Plata Mountains in Southwest Colorado.  Peter aspires to create pottery that is both timeless and modern through the evolution of his intrigue with  form and decoration.

His work :

“I work with stoneware.  My pots are thrown, thrown and altered, or hand-built.  To achieve visual depth in my patterns, I employ five elements.  Four of these–wax resist, latex, dipping, and brushwork–are applied to bisqued pots.  The pots are then high-fired in a heavy reduction atmosphere with the intent of trapping carbon in the base glaze.  It is trapped carbon that is the fifth and random element.  Each pot is designed to serve a functional purpose and is compatible with modern appliance. I produce six bodies of work a year.  Each body of work offers me the opportunity to explore new ideas and refine existing ones. ”  

The landscape around his home, calligraphy, textiles and the pottery of the past have influenced his glaze decorations. 

Peter Karner Pottery Vessels lidded jars

Peter Karner



 Ceramic tagine - -Peter Karner pottery Ceramic tagine – -Peter Karner pottery



 Peter Karner pottery  Tall vase


His artistic statement :

As a studio potter, I am concerned with form, its ability to function, decoration,and firing. In order for a piece to be truly successful, all of these components must come together. High fire reduction pottery has a great number of variables not fully under the control of the artist. Over the last several years, I have been working with the same five glazes and firing style. During that time, I have opened the kiln to find both treasures and trash. While this has been frustrating at times, the challenge to execute strong functional forms with distinctive, sophisticated glazes drives me to learn from my successes and failures. The size of a foot, whether a form works best squat or tall, how the glaze and decoration best suit various forms—I feel these qualities can only be resolved through repetition. Ironically, through repetition, pieces are more apt to embody a certain unstudied organic essence. I love this process in spite of the myriad of unsuccessful pots that result. By working in series over an extended period of time, I have grown immeasurably—both as an individual and an artist.

I take my inspiration from several places. First and foremost are the many pots, both contemporary and historical, that have caught my attention. In particular, while apprenticing for Solveig Cox in 1989, I had the opportunity to have a tour of the ceramic collection at the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC. I left the museum that day having held pots from many different centuries and styles with the clear notion that regardless of the type of clay or the era of a pot’s creation, there is a certain essence that is present in each successful piece—a sense of the maker’s hand and the sprite that he or she instilled. To me, this essence is paralleled in the natural world. Flowers, mountain peaks, ridge-lines, trees, and cloud formations around my southwest Colorado home embody these qualities to the fullest. In addition to the great tradition of functional pottery and my environs, I am greatly influenced by the designs found in textiles, wall paper, rugs, and the fluid movement of Islamic, Chinese and Japanese calligraphy. Contemporary architecture and Islamic iron work also have a noticeable impact on my designs.Ultimately, I hope to instill in every piece a fluidity and grace found in the many things I draw inspiration from.


Lidded ceramic box — Peter Karner


 Tall pitcher — Peter Karner


  Lidded vesselLidded arabesque vessel--Peter Karner



Peter Karner Stoneware PlatterPeter Karner ceramic charger  Stoneware Vase Peter Karner



Tall vase — Peter Karner

Peter Karner Teapot  Ceramic teapot – Peter KarnerPeter Karner Vase 

Teapot – Peter Karner

Stoneware plate Peter KarnerLarge charger – Peter Karner


Above  Photos:  George Post & Adam Field.

Link to Peter Karner’s website: 


Simcha Even-Chen Ceramic Sculptures.

Detachement by Even-Chen Detachment

2009 – 9th International Biennial of Ceramics Manises, Valencia, Spain



According to Taoist philosophy, nothing in the physical realm exists as a singular entity and always has a dualistic relationship, with regard to its chi structures. Without this polarity a dynamic isn’t possible. Through the study of these dynamics, its possible to perceive the Tao , which exists in a non dualistic dimension.


Simcha uses ceramics to investigate the elements of ambiguity and the dynamic of opposites. Ambiguity is expressed by exploring the ratio between mass, volume and balance.

She constructs simple, precise shapes to enclose and contain space. The works are slab-built, which gives the impression of solid and massive bodies, when they are, in fact, surprisingly light and delicate. In this contrast between appearance and reality, the relationship of the interior space changes, becomes intimate and creates an illusion of the object’s instability.


2008 – Winner of the 26th Gold Cost International Ceramic Art Award, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Australia

The dynamic of opposites is expressed in a way that juxtaposes the precise and controlled building and graphic design of the ceramic work with the unpredictable firing technique of “Naked Raku’.

Simcha Even-Chen, has been a  clay artist living in Rehovot, Israel, and  active ceramicist since 1996, in addition to being a Senior Scientist at the Medical School, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. ( Her scientific background is obvious in the precision and style of her sculptures )

Simcha Evenn-Chen ceramic sculptureMovement

 2011- CERCO-11, International Prize of Contemporary Ceramics, Zaragoza, Spain

Simcha Even-Chen Ceramic ArtDispersion

2009 – The Third International Festival of Postmodern Ceramics – CERAMICA MULTIPLEX, Varaždin, Croatia

A moment by Simcha Even-Chen A Moment before……….

2009 – First Prize in the Competition of Design and New Forms in Ceramic, LXXIX Exhibition of Pottery and Ceramic of La Rambla, Cordoba, Spain

The following is part of an interview with Simcha Even-chen from Keramiekatelier’s blog :

Where did you study ceramics or another art discipline?

I took ceramic courses for two years (1994-1996) at the Rehovot Culture Foundation. The courses were mainly on wheel throwing and glaze preparation. Most of the knowledge accumulated after that is self-thought and from the literature.


Which reasons do you have for choosing clay as means to express yourself or realise your ideas, concepts or forms?

I have always been fascinated by the elusive harmonies created when a precise controlled architectural element is brought together with intricate surface designs and colors to generate the complete object and induce an aesthetic as well as intellectual stimulus. The plasticity of clay allows me to explore these processes.
I have used in the past wheel throwing and sawdust firing, and experimented with the relationship between the clean minimalistic shapes and “storm” of surface colors generated by the spontaneous movement of the fire.
Combination of slab building and naked raku techniques, gives me more flexibility and ability to work on more complex relationships, and I have been using these techniques for six years.

Which message you hope to convey to your spectators?

I use ceramic sculptures to investigate the elements of ambiguity and dynamic of opposites. These are achieved by exploring the ratio between mass, volume and space. In my works I’m dealing with issues such as tensions between polarities, with fragmentation and constructions and with illusions. These concepts are guidelines for my treatment of space in the context of surface-volume relationships. The division of the body surface between white and black, as well as the use of lines softens the shape( see ” Dispersion ” above ), simultaneously placing the grid or lines on the edge of the shape, so that they follow the shape, completely dissolve the hard lines. Viewing from different angles, surface and volume are blurred, giving an illusion of flatness (See ” Illusion ” above).
This idea is strengthened and extended by working with pairs ( see below ” Dialogs )) or creating a composition of a few units, where new volumes and planes are achieved by way of the lines or grid are virtually joined; the ratio of parts to the whole is changing and two and three dimensions are played against each other in a sophisticated manner (See ” Split ” )

While the black sculptures may seem massive and heavy, their weight is light when actually lifted. Their stance appears fragile when placed on their convex side, but they are full of energy and movement. Once again, the duality of heavy-light, stability versus instability, negative and positive shapes, contrast between appearance and reality, comes to the fore.
In my recent work, I focus on tension and balance through the juxtaposition of forms upon one another. Different levels of relationships are created at the contact point between the bodies; physical balance, ratio between the geometric surfaces pattern and the structure of the bodies and the tension between the surface and the amorphous patterns resulting from the raku technique (see ” A Moment ” above).

Simcha Even-Chen Ceramic SculptureDialogs

2006 – Second Prize, L’Alcalaten Prize, 26th Concurs International de Ceramica, L’Alcora, Spain

Split ceramic sculptureSplit

2009 – 29th Concurs International de Ceramica, L’Alcora, Spain

Which importance has design in your work and what is the relation between design and clay?

My body of work deals with the construction of architectural geometrical shapes, their fragmentation, and the rapport generated when they are combined to form an assemblage. The use of the geometric design on the surface adds another dimension to each object on its own, but also has an impact on the fractures between objects in a group, as the flow of lines and shapes redefines the significance of each shape and gives a visual perception of unity and harmony to the work.

What is the meaning of color for you and your work and what is the relation between color and clay?

I use only black and white, mellowed by the spectrum of in-between shades of grey, all characteristic of smoke-fired raku, while exploring and searching for harmony, to make my ideas sharper and more attractive.

Balance Ceramic SculptureBalance

2010 – III Biennale International de ceramic de Marratxi (BICMA), Museum Del Fang, Maratxi, Spain

What was for you the most important moment in your ceramic career?

The turning point in my career was receiving second prize in 26th Concurs International competition de Ceramic, L’Alcora, Spain (2006), which was followed by the break-through of exhibiting at important International Exhibitions, rather than local Israeli ones.

Which artist is or has been an inspiration for you?

I admire and was inspired by the steel sculptures of Richard Serra.

Which ceramic works and ceramist do you admire in your own country and internationally?

Daphne Corregan, Kaneko Jun, Yeung Yuk Kan, Bodil Manz and Gordon Baldwin

Do you have a gallery where we can see your work or where you exhibit frequently?

Gallery and Museum Shops which exhibit and sell my works:

1.     NUMMER40, Modern Art & Design Gallery 2e Loolaan 40, 7009 AT, Doetinchen, Nederland


2.     Eretz-Israel Museum Gift Shop, Tel-Aviv, Israel


3.     Begin Heritage Center – Museum Shop, Jerusalem, Israel


Do you have a website?


Ceramic Sculpture Even-Chen

Triple Balance

2011 – Gangjin Festival International Ceramic Exhibition, South Korea

Square Enigma Sincha Even-Chen

Square Enigma.

2008 – Sindy Myer Fun international Ceramic Award, Shepparton Art Gallery in association with La Trobe University, Australia.

All the above featured pieces were of a Slab-build, burnished, terra sigillata & Naked Raku


Below are some non sculptural pieces by Simcha.

Simcha Even-Chen VasesVases

Raku Vase and flowers

All Photos by  Ilan Amihai