The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty

September 28, 2010–January 2, 2011

Embellished Surfaces

Chinese art produced during the Yuan dynasty is characterized by a sharing of themes and motifs between media such as ceramics, metalwork, and lacquer. Many of the shapes found in all media in the exhibition derive from the elegant forms common in south China during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), others show new forms that were introduced to China from different parts of Asia. Works of art produced in all media share an interest in embellishing the surface that is characteristic of the Yuan dynasty.

Some of the objects displayed in this exhibition have exteriors that have been subdivided using borders or frames. In addition, cartouches, generally filled with additional motifs, often define the surface of an object. In some cases, the shape of a vessel has been pierced to create a greater sense of depth, in others, borders or other parts of the surface are raised, sometimes using beading or a braided design. It remains unclear whether or not this interest in an articulated surface reflects the taste of the Mongols. However, it is worth noting that after the fall of the Yuan dynasty, simple shapes with elegant but flat surfaces once again became common in Chinese decorative arts.