Detail View: The AMICA Library: Raft Cup (Chabei)

AMICA Library Year: 
Object Type: 
Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Creator Name: 
Bishan, Zhu
Creator Nationality: 
Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Role: 
Creator Dates/Places: 
c. 1300 - aft 1362
Creator Name-CRT: 
Zhu Bishan
Raft Cup (Chabei)
Title Type: 
Full View
Creation Date: 
Creation Start Date: 
Creation End Date: 
Materials and Techniques: 
hammered silver pieces soldered together, with chased decoration
Classification Term: 
Classification Term: 
AMICA Contributor: 
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: 
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 
Credit Line: 
John L. Severance Fund
Increasingly inspired by natural forms, the potters, silversmiths, and lacquer makers of Song China frequently created beautiful functional objects in the shapes of living things. This representational trend is most impressive in the amazing silver workmade by Zhu Bishan in the fourteenth century. Exemplified by this remarkable cup, Zhu's sculpting interests frequently obscured the functional purpose of his pieces. This cup, in the form of a unfettered figure sitting in a hollow log, can be filled through a hole in its upturned tip, and emptied at the softly rolled lip in front of the man. Confronted with every sip, this individual is identified by inscriptions on the bottom of the cup and on the tablet in his right hand as a traveler who began a transcendental trip in a raft on a river but ended up in the Milky Way. The legend offered a powerful image of escape and release that would have been popular among the educated members of the Chinese cultural aristocracy who were in large part barred from finding employment in the traditional civil service by the Mongol rulers of the Yuan. Zhu Bishan, creator of the cup, may have understood the poignancy of the theme only too well. Unlike most silversmiths of the time who simply marked their products with thename of their workshop, Zhu signed his cups with his literary nickname, Huayu, suggesting that he was not an ordinary artisan but a literate member of the gentry dislocated by the political, social, and economic upheaval of the time. Born in Weitang, Zhejiang Province, Zhu eventually moved to the prosperous cultural and commercial center of Suzhou in neighboring Jiangsu, where he studied silversmithing before opening his own shop in Mudu, a thriving art and craft center just outside the city on the routetoscenic Lake Tai. The location ensured him a steady stream of customers. In fact, one early source states that his works were all the rage at the time. His clients must have included rich, well-educated gentlemen who would have appreciated the historical and literary subjects that inspired his singular creations. Strangely, few of his silvers survive. Only two others, both formerly in the imperial collection of China's Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong (ruled 1736-96), are known. K.W.
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