The Beauty of Black by Jin Yongcai
Originated in Shiping county of China’s southwestern Yunnan province during the reign of Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing dynasty (1368-1644 AD), silver inlaying on black copper is a unique copperware handicraft of Yunnan that has a history of almost 300 years.
Vase of Endless Fortune and Longevity. With a shape of the standard form of the “grant vases” (vases granted by the emperor as awards) during Emperor Qianlong’s reign in the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD), this beautifully-shaped vase is embellished on its neck with the Chinese character of longevity surrounded by cloud patterns, motifs of bats and peaches, symbols of fortune and longevity on its shoulder, the main pattern of five bats surrounding the Chinese character of longevity on its belly with a diameter of 10cm, and the auspicious 卍 patterns at its bottom. All these ornamental elements, while accentuating the artistic curvy edges of the vase, convey the wishes for endless fortune, happiness and longevity.
The quaint and elegant handicrafts, known for the contrast colors of silver or golden of the motifs and black of the foundation, are created by inlaying melted silver or gold in the chased grooves of patterns on the copper base, which turns black after going through a series of procedures including shaping, assembling, surface-rubbing and polishing, blackening, etc. It is called silver inlaying on black copper as silver is used as inlay in most cases.
Vase of Fortune and Longevity Featuring Plum Blossom, Orchid, Bamboo and Chrysanthemum. Known as the “Four Gentlemen” among plants for the Chinese people, plum blossoms, orchid blossoms, bamboo and chrysanthemums have evolved into a cultural symbol of noble characters and moral virtues based on their own natural beauties and certain properties. The artisan therefore created this artwork to encourage him to learn from the “gentlemen” in nature.
Wine Flagon with Dragon Patterns. This flat vessel with flowing curvy lines has a long and slender curved opening in the shape of a crane neck, a dragon-shaped handle and a ruyi-shaped lid. There are nine exquisite engraved dragons surrounding the body of the flagon. The refined techniques of engraving and welding based on an ingenious design led to a piece of artwork that shows a perfect combination of liveliness and decorum.
Square Cauldron with Bats and Peaches Patterns. With a shape that was popular in the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), this four-foot square cauldron exudes a sense of stability, solemnity and decorum. Regarding the embellishment, it applied the classic motif of “five bats supporting longevity” of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD) in combination with the continuous 卍 patterns at the bottom. All these ornamental patterns were first chased dot by dot or line by line on the black copper base and then inlayed with silver, creating a visually appealing contrast between black and white.
Bracelet with Patterns of Phoenix and Peony Blossoms. This unique handmade bracelet was designed to convey the elegance and simplicity of hand-crafted accessories based on the decorous shape, coupled with the embellishment featuring phoenix flying around peony blossoms .
Accessories with motifs of phoenix and peony blossoms were popular choices among high-ranking officials or wealthy businessman as part of the dowry to their daughters or as gifts for noble ladies in ancient China.