Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum - second visit

It's always interesting to return to the southern branch of the National Palace Museum as its exhibits change regularly. This time, I could see this jade cabbage with 2 grasshoppers. It's the most famous item of the museum. Last time I saw it exhibited in Taipei, one had to wait 15 minutes to see it. In the southern branch there are fewer tourists and I didn't have to wait at all! This is one of the few positive impact of the reduced number of Chinese tourists in Taiwan due to the Coronavirus.

Maybe I should give a few words about this subject: Taiwan has 17 cases of infection to this date. This number is quite low compared to 21 million inhabitants and it's not growing exponentially, but very slowly. Most people in the MRT and in stores are wearing face masks, which shows that they are all aware of this disease and are taking necessary steps to stop the spread (washing hands with soap when coming home...) This probably helps explain why the virus seems quite contained here. That's why life continues pretty much as usual, except that people try to avoid tourist spots that were popular with Chinese visitors (who aren't allowed in Taiwan anymore for the time being). But the Post Office is working normally and continues to deliver my teas and tea ware all around the world! There's no risk from my side, since I haven't purchased any tea or ware from China since the outbreak of the coronavirus. So, please continue to source your teas and Chaxi from Taiwan, the home of high mountain Oolong and where tea brewing was reinvented in the 1980s!

And since it's a little more tricky to visit Taiwan nowadays, let me show you some masterpieces from its best museum. It's on them that rests the inspiration and search for excellence of today's tea lovers!

Below is a second iconic masterpiece: the porcelain pillow in the shape of a recumbent child. It dates from the Northern Song to Jin dynasty (12th century). It's a Ding kiln white porcelain with a dark ivory hue. It seems very much alive with its stretched tongue and its little feet! And the flower patterns on its cloth are beautiful.

 With the next item, a tea bowl from the Song dynasty, we can see a similar clay, but with an extremely simple and elegant design. The harmony is so perfect, it seems out of time, eternal.
Next are 2 dishes are Ru wares from the northern Song. These bluish-green wares were made during a short time span: 1086 to 1106.
 These Ru wares come from Baofeng county in Henan province. These kilns were lost when the Song court had to retreat to the south of China.
 Their hue changes with the light and its difficult to catch the true color of the surface. Many poems try to render the soft, tender color of the glaze.
The National Palace Museum has one of the best collection of Ru wares. While most of these items were not made for the tea ceremony (this is a brush washer), they still influence current celadon tea ware.
The museum has a new exhibition about Curio boxes from emperor Qianlong (until 26/12/2021). They show the beautiful way this emperor, known for his art collection, would store his precious treasures. The box below would contain 19 smaller boxes in which 67 porcelain wares fit.
Below is a one of  those small box with nice padding.
And among his favorite tea cups were the chicken cups from the Chenghua reign (1465-1487, Ming dynasty).
Here are some details and an interesting rendering of the painting on the cup on a flat surface.
These cups have become very famous after a Hong Kong collector purchased 1 for over 200 million HKD. So, if you do the math, with 6 cups on display, the monetary value of these cups exceeds 1 billion HKD (150 million USD)!
But the story behind these cups is even more interesting. These cups were gifts that emperor Chenghua gave to his favorite consort (wife): Lady Wan, Wan Gueifei. She was 17 years older than the emperor and had first taken care of him when he was a little child! She was like his nanny and they ended up in a romantic relationship, despite the age gap. That was quite a scandal at the court and this must have reinforced his resolve towards her. These chicken cups depicting a family of chicken are a symbol for the simple happiness he longed to enjoy with Lady Wan. Unfortunately, the one son she gave birth to died before 1 year old.
The following porcelain cups with peaches show a similar shape as the chicken cups. The base is the foot.
Below are the Chenghua three autumn cups made of very thin porcelain.
They are also known as 'butterfly cups'. The shape of these cups is more similar to the 'flower cups' of my selection.
These qinghua bird cups are another very nice example of tall, 'flower' shaped cups.
The following pair of teacups also dates from the Chenghua reign. Underglaze blue and overglaze red with flower decor.
The museum has a permanent tea ware exhibition. That's where I took this photograph of a porcelain falangcai teapot and cup from the Qianlong era (1736-1795)
This richly decorated yangcai enamel gaiwan dates back to Daoguang (1821-1850)
This part of the exhibition shows the link between Chinese tea culture and Japanese tea culture. With this Chado room here.
And with a sencha set that looks very much like a Chaozhou gongfu cha set:
I hope you have enjoyed this quick virtual tour of the museum. If you want to read more, I give away my ebook: The ultimate tea ware collection of Chinese emperors if you make a 200 USD purchase on tea-masters.comhttps://www.tea-masters.com/en/ and you also get TeaMasters at the British Museum (since it's given with orders above 100 USD). And this also entitles you to my short story (Emperor Fei's Dream of Tea) and my Oolong Brewing Guide