A Tang Dynasty Sancai dish and a Wei Dynasty Aspara
Both of these sublime works of art are among several hundred Chinese objects being auctioned at Christie’s in New York next month. While I won’t be present, or bidding. I do enjoy studying the photos and reading the descriptions in the online catalog. What I miss most, though, is handling the objects.
One of the great joys of my life, during the years I lived in New York and London, was visiting Sothebys and Christie’s auction houses during the preview period for their twice-annual sales of Chinese art. Anyone attending the previews is allowed to inspect the objects in the auction.
So, I’ve held priceless Chinese objects in my hand, and studied them patiently, up close. Of all those I’ve held, what stays most in memory is the tactile sensation from a Tang Sancai ceramic, tracing with a finger the sharply incised edges of the petals, the smooth and slick three-color glaze, the dry friable texture of the unglazed bottom.
Not much else made 1,200 years ago is as understandable, relevant and familiar as a Tang dish. We use similar-shaped objects for similar purposes every day. And yet, the Tang dish cannot be equaled in its perfected and exacting beauty.