Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

Lotus Flowers in a Wood Vase: Ornament for a scholar's table

Ornament for a scholar’s table: lotus flowers in a vase
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Carved from wood and root, this Chinese scholar’s ornament depicts multiple lotus flowers. The Lotus flower holds important symbolic value in traditional Chinese culture. Primarily a Buddhist symbol, the lotus is known for its lack of imperfections and represents purity of the mind and detachment from worldly concerns. Using a natural medium to create the lotus flower reinforces the importance of examining nature and its products as a way to gain greater understanding of the world around us.

Chinese scholars characteristically spent long periods of time in isolation examining Confucian texts and writing calligraphy. As a result, the art pieces they collected were often used to support their studies. Some of the most common scholar’s objects had practical purposes, such as ceramic ink wells or carved vessels to store calligraphy brushes. But not all objects had a practical use. Our piece was intended to inspire thought and reflection, aiding the scholar in a less concrete – but arguably more substantial – way. 

In order to become a scholar and enter government service, potential scholars were required to take a rigorous civil service examination. Upon passing this test, scholars received exemplary treatment from the government; they were well paid for their studies, and revered by other members of society. Their high position allowed scholars to become major collectors of art in the Qing Dynasty.

Edward McElwreath, ’18 

EHST major, History of Art minor 

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