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Chi'-lin, Mysterious Pot

Mysterious Pot

 

Size: 76 cm x 48 cm x 31 cm - 5/1990

The motifs on this pot were copied from an ancient round Chinese fish basin. That fish basin was placed in the Bonsai-Museum in Heidelberg for many years. Paul Lesniewicz, the founder of the museum, brought that large pot home from one of his many journeys to China. During the time when I looked after the museum, I stood in front of the pot repeatedly for a long time and tried to fathom its history. Some of it I could unravel, but the main motif group on the pot and its meaning is still a mystery to me.

In order to archive the pot for me as a potter and to understand its complexity factor, I tried to copy it. The size of the original pot was the first handicap, as it is impossible for a private potter to fire a pot of 80 to 90 cm in diameter.

So I chose a shape and size that would only just fit into my kiln. It was an oval shape which measured 84 x 53 x 34 cm when the clay was still wet. I made the pot in May 1990. After firing, the size was still 76 x 48 x 31 cm.

All pictures on the pot derive from Chinese history. These motifs have developed during several thousands of years and are still used on Chinese ceramic objects.

The symbolic meaning of the main motif, a group of five persons, I could not unriddle so far. Four persons, one of them sitting, are turned toward a person who looks like a warrior with a spear.

The other motifs were easier to unravel. There is the willow tree for instance. The willow is a much valued symbol of spring. Countless paintings show persons under a willow tree. The waist of a beautiful woman is compared to the willow tree, her eyes compared to the shape of the willow leaf. In old China, it was a tradition to break a willog rod and give it to a parting person for goodbye.

A bat is flying around the willow tree, a lucky charm.

This is a pot handle shaped like the head of a bat with an engraved symbol for good luck. This means double good luck.

Below the tree, on the right, a mythical creature, a „Ch'i-lin“, is moulded upon the pot surface.

That is why I call my mysterious pot „Ch'i-lin Pot“. There are many portrayals of this creature, it can be seen with one, two or even three horns. It has the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, the scales of a fish. Along with the dragon, the phoenix and the turtle, it belongs to the four legendary animals. There are various meanings which cannot all be explained here.

On this pot it is, like the bat, illustrated as a cute little creature. It is a symbol for silence, peace and blessing. In its mouth it carries a „Ling-chih“ herb. This herb has magic power and is also called „immortality drug“. Placed in the mouth of a „Ch'i-lin“ it has a double symbolic meaning and stands for longevity.

May it bring the pot good luck.

Translation: Heike van Gunst

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Here again for understanding, as described in the article, two old ceramic bowl from China.


This pots are waterplant containers for water lilies, lotos, reed or other water weeds. They are glazed on the inside and have a tiny drainage hole that was sealed with wax or cork-like material. Since the pots are very heavy when filled with water, the hole could be opened to release the water again. To avoid overflowing there are some holes about 3 to 5 cm below the upper edge. I suppose that pots like these were used as fish tanks by less wealthy Chinese people. The function of the upper drainage holes might have been that constant rain would not cause water to flow over the upper edge and put the valued fish at risk. The wealthier Chinese owned fish tanks that were made of precious porcelain. The advantage of the porcelain was that it was glazed in light colours on the inside so the fish could be watched very well. On the upper rim of the pots there is a meandering band of the thunder symbol. The motives are figures and plants that represent symbols of the Chinese culture. On the right side of the pots you can see handles that in addition to their symbolic value also have a practical use: They are moulded with an embossed shape so that the fingers could hold them securely when the pot was transported. These handles are mostly found on bigger pots. In this case they are shaped like lion heads with a ring in the mouth (a symbol of continuity, eternity, recurrence) with nearly human faces. Inside the ring there's another symbol for happiness and a long life. These pots are about 80 to 100 years old.

Translation: Heike van Gunst

Photos and Pots: Pius Notter