Gold and Silver
Connotation of Gold and Silver Articles.
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Gold and silver articles include all the vessels and ornaments made of gold and silver. Since gold and silver are precious metals, such articles are produced much less in quantity than those of bronze, jade and pottery and porcelain. But the former ones are finely produced with a higher cultural value. Beliefs and religions, life and customs and national cultural features in ancient society are usually reflected in gold and silver articles.
The earliest Chinese gold articles were found in the Shang Dynasty. And silver articles were found a little later than gold articles. After the Shang Dynasty, gold and silver articles were also produced in various periods and left to the present day. These products produced in different times show different characteristics of their own.
Gold articles produced in the Shang period were small ornaments, though not great in quantity and variety. During the Zhou Dynasty, particularly in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, the quantity and variety of gold and silver articles apparently increased and the earliest gold ware appeared.
During the Qin and Han periods, the craftsmanship of gold and silver products was improved, becoming an independent trade separated from the traditional production of bronze articles. Gold filigree and welding skills were commonly used and gold plating technique was also very popular. Apart from gold-vessels, there were also articles with animal designs and other ornaments. Seals made of gold and silver were also found.
Not many gold and silver vessels were found dating back to the Three Kingdoms, the Western Jin and Eastern Jin dynasties, and the Southern and Northern Dynasties, but the few that had been found all have their own style. Except small ornaments, many vessels were unearthed that had been imported from Persia in the Sasanian Dynasty. They show the cultural exchange between China and foreign countries at the time, particularly in the period of the Northern Wei (368-534), was very frequent.
Since the economy of the Sui and Tang periods was prosperous, groups of the Tang gold and silver ware were unearthed on several occasions. The products produced in this period were various and rich in variety including cups, boxes, plates and pots, even coffins and Buddhist pagodas never found before. They also included articles in such designs as dragon, phoenix, heavenly horse and heavenly lion. The patterns on the products included peony, lily lotus, honeysuckle, pomegranade, in addition to musicians and singers, female figurines, frolicking children and hunters and horses. With all kinds of patterns, the vessels suggest a feeling of pleasantry and gracefulness. At the time, casting and foundry, welding, cutting, polishing, riveting, plating, punching, carving and hollow cutting were widely used in the production of gold and silver vessels.
During the periods of Song, Liao, J in and Yuan, urban economy and commodity, production were well developed. At the time, gold ware hitherto being exclusive products of the upper class of society had now become commodities on the market. They were not only owned and enjoyed by nobles and ministers, but also possessed by ordinary but rich families and appeared in many entertainment and public houses and brothels. Their style had changed from sumptuousness to simplicity with the tang of life or poetic flavor. Gold and silver products of the Liao period are full of ethnical style. There are not many gold and silver products of the Jin period unearthed, but many of the Yuan Dynasty Products were unearthed, most of them in the south part of China, justifying the well developed craftsmanship in the south. Many products made in this period usually contained inscriptions and signatures of the makers. Many others were even inscribed with poems or essays. These products providing accurate written materials can serve as standard materials for research.
Few novel products were found in the Ming Dynasty. But in the Qing Dynasty, production of gold and silver was developed as never before. The variety of gold and silver articles covered a wide range from decrees to sacrificial vessels, headdresses, daily-use articles, horse gears, furnishings and Buddhist ritual vessels. And a great deal of gold was used. In the 45th year of the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1715), a set of 16 gold bells was produced with a total weight of more than 460 kg. A gold pagoda enshrined in the Zhongzheng Hall was 5.33 meters in height and 350 kg in weight. The social function of gold and silver vessels further expanded at the time with models and patterns well developed. Such new techniques as attaching enamel to gold vessels and a mixing of filigree and enamel appeared. The full development of the production of gold and silver products During this time reflected the wanton extravagant life of the ruling class, as well as the socio-economic prosperity and upgraded sci-tech level of the time.
To make a general survey, the development of Chinese gold and silver vessels in ancient time contained affluent cultural contents. Generally speaking, they included:
First, worship and belief
There are many gold and silver articles that reflect the worship and belief of the ancient people. The unearthed gold facial cover is one of the evidences that show the idea of worship. It was found covering the face of a bronze man, possibly used in some ritual in a sacrificial ceremony. After the introduction of Buddhism into China, and since the Northern Wei Dynasty (368-534), gold and silver vessels had been used to hold Buddhist relics enshrined in the chamber of the basement of a pagoda. During the Song and Liao periods, many gold and silver vessels were also unearthed from pagoda basements. But it should be noted that not all gold and silver vessels reflect a religious worship and belief. And the later the time came, the less religious content they contained.
Secondly, the ides of hierarchy
Gold and silver articles had always been used as a symbol to show the social status of the owner. There were gold batons and gold crowns to symbolize power. For example, an unearthed “three-star gold baton” is a gold product of the Shang period, 142 cm in length, 2.3 cm in diameter and 780 grams in weight. According to archeologists, it was probably used to symbolize the status and authority of a tribal leader. The princes’ gold seals of the Eastern Han period were the very thing to show one’s power and status. After the Song Dynasty, the quantities of gold and silver products increased and mostly were used to show the wealth of the owner. Along with the progress of social life, gold and silver products were more and more used in people's daily life, such as gold box, silver box, gold and silver cups and silver pots. These products were welcomed by the people for their usefulness and artistic value.
Thirdly, a clear reflection of the folk style and customs.
This feature has been more apparently shown in the products made by ethnic minorities. Archeologists found the Huns and Xianbeis liked to make gold and silver vessels with animal patterns, particularly such ones as a fight between a tiger and a wolf – a presentation of the nomadic life of These peoples. Qidan nobles had a unique funeral custom, using gold and silver masks to cover the faces of the dead and colorful brocade to bind their hands and feet. Gold and silver masks found by archeologists are convincing proofs of this.
Gold and silver products found in the Central Plain were usually decorated with animals and plants that symbolized auspiciousness and good luck, suggestive of good wishes for a happy life. The patterns of dragon and phoenix were quite often used to symbolize the great propitiousness, sheep good luck, mandarin ducks affection of a loving couple, wild goose propitiousness, paradise flycatcher longevit3; and pomegranate the proliferation of a family.
Fourthly, the craftsmanship of the products is also of unique artistic level
Gold and silver products in early times were small and simple.
During the periods of Han and Tang, gold and silver products were produced in great variety and in unique shapes. During the periods of Song and Yuan, the style gradually became simple and elegant. For instance, a silver fruit container made in the Song period had been popular at the time and in later periods for its usefulness, delicate modeling and suggestion of good luck and peace. In the periods of Ming and Qing, products made of gold together with jade increased in number. And their models suggested a dignity, boldness and vigor, like a gold ball with pearls made in the Qing period, which is 82 cm high with a diameter of 30 cm. It is a model of the heavenly body, reflecting the magnificence of' the Heaven and Earth and the cosmos of the time, and helping people to know the universe. It is a product of people's knowledge of the universe and a stylistic art work as well. Obviously, gold and silver products have a high value of art and cultural virtuosity.
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