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Very Unusual Chinese Rootwood Brushpot (or Vase)
This is a fascinating Chinese rootwood brushpot. It is very lightweight. Very beautifully sculpted from a lighter colored wood. The knotholes seem to mimic the beautiful openwork on some carved jades or ivories, but this is natural.
This is It is 8 and 1/2 inches tall and in Good to Very Good Condition, with some expected age rubs. This may have been made in two pieces with the brushpot fitted into the stand. I am not sure if it is one piece or two. It is very nicely made.
Some additional information about rootwood - Long before contemporary furniture makers began to preserve the natural forms of tree trunks and branches, Chinese artists had mastered the craft of designing furniture and other decorative objects from the twisted forms and inherent grains of hardwoods. The significance of rootwood furniture is not only formal; it is also philosophical. Satisfying the Taoist design principles of naturalism and spontaneity, rootwood furniture exemplifies the idea that the scholarly aesthetic of a Chinese gentleman should be expressed with a humble attitude. The Chinese ideals for a literati gentleman are strength in reason, creation, expression and dexterity—these values are also expressed in what is required to envision, design and create rootwood pieces. Wood is one of the five elements of Chinese mysticism, along with fire, water, metal, and earth. The twisted roots of trees have special associations for Buddhists and Taoists, who see them as the embodiment of the ebb and flow of nature's energy. A search for the perfect piece of trunk or root mirrored the spiritual pursuit of harmony. Polished and arranged in a certain way, rootwood has the ability to transform from a piece of wood into a cumulus cloud, a flowing river, or a miniature mountain range. By removing the wood from its original context, it takes on special symbolism.
Looking at Chinese paintings, it is easy to find examples of rootwood's historical importance. An imperial painting from the Five Dynasties period (8th century) depicts Emperor Minghuang sitting on a rootwood stool. Later, images from the Ming and Qing Dynasties (16th to 19th centuries) commonly show scholars sitting in rootwood chairs. The twisted forms of rootwood beds and tables also populate the erotic art of the era, attesting to its significance not only in the homes of intellectuals but also in the hidden world of sensual pleasure. Like many Chinese objects and materials, rootwood contains the duality of two worlds. Rootwood craftsmen—by manipulating the perception and scale of the original tree—shape the mystical, unknowable world into one that is known, an everyday part of daily human life. The root of the tree offers a sense of wholeness in its form. An ancient love poem from the Han Dynasty beautifully illustrates the metaphor of completeness: "...roots never break from the trunk they cling to. If even these unfeeling things shun separation, how could we, who have feelings, bear to part?"
 Excerpted from The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century, Trans. & Ed. Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, 1986.
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Miriam Barkus, Davie, FL
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