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Dark Jewels: Chinese Black and Brown Ceramics
Tea Bowl with Tortoiseshell Glaze, glazed stoneware, Yonghe kilns, Ji'an, Jiangxi province, Southern Song dynasty, 13th Century. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, gift of F. Eunice and Herbert F. Shatzman.

CINCINNATI, OH.- Discover ancient Chinese beauty this summer as the Taft Museum of Art features 70 gorgeous works of art in Dark Jewels: Chinese Black and Brown Ceramics from the Shatzman Collection.

Dark Jewels explores the quiet beauty of tea bowls, jars, bottles and other ceramics created during the Northern Song, Southern Song, Jin and Yuan dynasties of China, spanning a 408-year period (960 to 1368 C.E.). The early part of this era was marked by dramatic economic growth as well as the rise of the scholar class that comprised the nation's bureaucratic governors.

The exhibition features vessels with simple, elegant shapes and brown or black glazes. When exposed to the heat of the kiln, these iron-oxide-rich glazes produced subtle effects akin to the natural beauty of fur, feathers and tortoiseshell.

"When looked at closely, the pieces reveal a marvelous variety of form and technique," notes Sherman Lee, the dean of American scholars of Asian art. "The simple triad of black, brown and white gives rise to a whole range of decorative effects."

These understated glazes appealed to the sophisticated aesthetic of the scholar class. And, when applied to tea bowls, they provided the perfect foil for the presentation of silvery whipped tea, the fashionable drink of the time.

These works come from the collection of Herbert and Eunice Shatzman of North Carolina, who have dedicated themselves to the connoisseurship of Chinese ceramics for more than twenty years. The Shatzmans recently gave their collection as a gift to the Ackland Art Museum, part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"In assembling this collection we have always kept in mind that these pieces were created by unknown artisans, most of whom dedicated their lives to their trade," explain the Shatzmans. "The glory of their efforts is the sophisticated glazes they were able to develop."

The vessels collected by the Schatzmans present a contrast to the Chinese ceramics collected by Anna and Charles Taft, now in the Museum's permanent collections. The Tafts' collection of brightly enameled porcelains from the 1700s represents the apogee of early 20th-century American collecting. The Schatzmans' collection reflects the shift toward the more natural, spontaneous effects favored by American collectors in the second half of the 20th century.

A full-color catalogue of the same name accompanies Dark Jewels, including text by Sherman Lee, Timothy Riggs and Ellen Avril. It will be available for purchase in the Museum Shop. Dark Jewels is organized by the Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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