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Video transcript

on May 13 in 1351 two vases and an incense burner were dedicated to a Taoist temple in China by a man who had these made specifically for this purpose and had his name date and the purpose of this dedication inscribed right on the vases themselves these were an offering to this temple in honor of a general who had recently been made of God I love that we have all this specific information you know in art history we so often have to guess the year and here we have the exact day this is something rather familiar to us we still make dedications we still make offerings and we've lost the incense burner but we do have the two Voss's and now we're looking at them in the British Museum in London right they're known as the David Voss's after sir Percival David the collector who purchased them amassed this amazing collection of about 1,500 Chinese ceramics and brought these two vases which belong together back together again they're fairly tall and they are an archetype of what we think of Chinese ceramics in the West this is blue and white porcelain porcelain is a very specific kind of ceramic that's very lustrous it's made from a very pure kind of clay we get the word porcelain from the Venetian explorer Marco Polo who went to China during this very period and apparently when he saw porcelain and it's hard white surface he thought it looked like the inside of a seashell and the word porcelain is very close to the Italian word for a Cowrie shell the date is 13:51 China was part of the vast mongol empire that stretched from china in the east to what we would think of today as eastern europe so often we use the word china to refer not to the country but to porcelain the material and that's because china produced an enormous amount of porcelain for export but what's interesting is that the chinese produced products for export with the local markets that they were selling to in mind and in fact we think about this kind of balloon right China as print essentially Chinese but as it turns out history is always a lot more complicated because at this point China was actually part of the Mongol Empire also known as the UN Dynasty porcelain is white but the blue is from a mineral called cobalt from what is present-day Iran so the cobalt is painted on the white porcelain which is this very pure clay then the entire thing is covered with a clear glaze which helps to give it this great sense of luminosity and then it's fired at very high temperature so it becomes like glass unlike typical ceramics or earthenware the Chinese had kilns that were technologically far advanced of anything in the West or even in the Near East so while we might think about this as very Chinese this is actually the result of a global Mongol Empire and the interaction of China and Iran in fact some scholars think that the blue and white motif itself was not only based on the material from around but was based on the taste of the local markets in Iran and that these pots were made for export although in this case it was made for a temple in China near the principal production Center for porcelain so while we might think about blue and white China as from the period of the Ming Dynasty later than this these bosses help us to date blue and white porcelain to the period before the Ming Dynasty to the UN dynasty so let's take a look at the Voss's themselves they're about two and a half feet tall and they're covered with motifs that we think of as typical for Chinese ceramics most prominently on both of us is right at the shoulder is a great dragon the serpentine form and then around the base we see a vine and floral motif we see that again just above the dragon motif and again at the very top the neck of the boss is divided in two parts the bottom part includes a Phoenix and then the top our leaves but interspersed between the leaves is the inscription that helps us date this to the UN dynasty and specifically to May 13 the handles are elephants and although this is ceramic the design seems to come from bronze we're in a bronze vessel you'd normally have a ring that hangs down from the handle and you can see that there was probably a ring here originally attached to the elephant's trunk you can see the brake marks and so these are not in perfect condition although they're in awfully good condition considering that they date from 1350 one