The Professor Dan Barag Commentary

Professor Dan Barag of the Hebrew University, and longtime president and chairman of the Israel Numismatic Society, focused his research on the material culture of the southern Levant from the classical period on, with special interest in ancient glassmaking, as well as Jewish and Palestinian numismatics.

He wrote the following commentary for a previous Ancient & Oriental exhibition.

An Introduction to the Early Bronze Age of Palestine & Transjordan

A flourishing farming culture existed during the mid-fourth millennium B.C. along the valley of the river Jordan and in central Palestine. This Chalcolithic (‘Copper-Stone’) Age is well known from such extensive village sited as Teleilat Ghassul, close to the north-eastern shores of the Dead Sea and from many other sites. In the northern Negev thrived the Beer Sheba culture of framers and shepherds who also engaged themselves in copper mining and production of high quality cooper tools and ceremonial objects. The Beer Sheba culture and closely related Ghassulian culture collapsed around 3200 B.C., under the pressure of the earliest military campaigns of the newly founded First dynasty of Egypt, and waves of migration from the north.

Life in the northern valleys of Palestine seems to have developed without a cultural break between the Chalcolithic period to the Early Bronze Age. The new sttlers with remnants of the former population established at first a culture of many small villages, co-existing with nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoral groups.

The pottery of the Early Bronze Age I of the late fourth millennium B.C. is one of our major sources of information about the period. This pottery is band made, the potter’s wheel unknown in this culture. Characteristic shapes are cups with high looped handles, deep and shallow bowls, jars with different types of horizontal handles (‘ledge-handles’) and small pierced lug handles. Many pottery vessels are red slipped and burnished, revealing a desire to imitate polished copper vessels, and some of the shapes seem also to be influenced from their contemporary metal ware. Some groups, perhaps semi-nomadic tribes living in central and southern Palestine and Transjordan made the same types of pottery vessels, but decorated them with painted lines, usually diagonal criss-cross patterns similar to basket ware.

Toward the ends of the fourth millennium and early third millennium B.C. some villages turned into large fortified urban centers. The danger posed by the Asiatic campaigns of the king’s of Egypt’s Old kingdom and inner strife led to the establishment of the Early Bronze Age I, although numerous new shapes were added to the repertory and others abandoned. Some types like the so-called Abydos jugs and ledge handled jars were exported as olive oil containers to Egypt, and were discovered in the tombs of the kings and nobility of the Old kingdom.

Prof. Dan Barag

Blue Chrysanthemum Shipwreck Pottery: Chinese Early Kangxi Blue and White Porcelain

240320169999 59  Analysis of survey material and cargo samples from the wrecksite together indicate that the ship was engaged in exporting very high quality Chinese porcelain made in the 1660s, probably on behalf of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The wares are predominately Jingdezhen blue and white porcelain, although multicoloured ceramics and utilitarian wares are also in evidence in the cargo. Some items are display wares while others were intended for use. The cargo included a large 'Gu'-shaped vase - a remarkable piece, illustrating a western square rigged merchant ship, by the flag almost certainly a Dutch Ship, and possibly representing the very ship that was to carry the cargo. Survey results suggested that this find is by far the highest quality Chinese antique shipwreck cargo from this period yet recovered in South East Asian waters.

  The samples recovered from the shipwrecked cargo are exclusively Chinese ceramics, in the main blue and white porcelain, all assessed by experts to be excellent examples of early Chinese Kangxi in origin of a quality indicating they were manufactured in the famous porcelain centre of Jingdezhen in the Jiangsu Province. Jingdezhen kilns made porcelain over two millenia, since the Han Dynasty period.

  Blue and white porcelain was the most famous product of Jingdezhen, and reached the height of its technical excellence in the early Ching Dynasty. The best examples of Chinese Kangxi blue and white porcelain are superb and rival any other Chinese blue and white wares produced during other periods. The shipwreck pieces recovered are typical of the highest quality blue and white of the Kangxi period, characterised by charming sophisticated designs. They also demonstrate a great technical expertise in the production of a brilliant under-glaze in sapphire blue, applied in five or six tones to produce a vibrant, dimensionally nuanced effect, together with a fine thin attractive white (or slightly bluish) silky glaze applied to a stark white and finely formed body. The very high quality cobalt blue colouring, distinctive on the early Kangxi period fine porcelains where it is referred to as 'gem blue' or 'kingfisher blue', is much purer and brighter than that of Ming Dynasty wares.

  The pieces provide an insight to range and quality of the wares carried by the ship, including some charming figurines as well as a delightful variety of vases, plates, bowls, bottles, jars, teapots, cups with saucers, and other items. Designs were sometimes based on Buddhist and Daoist themes, or sourced from illustrations of Ming stories such as 'The Three Kingdoms' or 'The Romance of the West Chamber', together with the dramas 'Xixiang Ji' and 'Wui Hu Zhuan'. The influence of Dutch and other European shapes and designs were in evidence prior to and during the Kangxi period. The very high standards achieved early in Kangxi’s reign, evident in the samples recovered from the shipwreck, mark the high point of quality for Chinese blue and white ceramics.


plates 1

The Desmond Morris Collection

The Desmond Morris Collection

The Art of Ancient Cyprus

dmorrisDesmond Morris is the author of The Naked Ape, Manwatching, The Naked Eye and numerous other books on human behaviour, as well as being a professional Zoologist, Surrealist artist, lecturer and broadcaster. He began his collection of Ancient Cypriot art after a memorable visit to Cyprus. In his own words: “It started the moment I walked into Room Two of the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia and for the first time set eyes on the amazing objects produced 4,000 years ago by the Bronze Age inhabitants of the island. There I found vessels and figurines exuding a cheerful inventiveness of such warmth and intensity that I became immediately infatuated. The rich playfulness of the bronze age Cypriot artists, their bold self-confidence in experimenting with novel shapes, their exuberant sense of sculptural humour and their imaginative verve in developing highly stylised forms were a revelation.”

On his return to England he visited the salerooms and dealers, first in London and then New York, Boston, Amsterdam, and Paris. Beginning with his first purcase in 1967, he went on to amass a collection of over 1,100 mainly pottery objects during 9 years, the wealth of his collection lying in the Early Bronze Age material, probably the finest collection outside of Cyprus. Many of these objects can be traced back to the 19th century collections of Lawrence and Luigi Palma di Cesnola which subsequently were acquired by Lt. Gen. A.H.L.F. Pitt-Rivers and were displayed at the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham, Dorset. Desmond Morris’s friend, Prof. Vassos Karageorghis, then director of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus, encouraged him to publish his collection and make it available to scholars and students. Both of these duties Desmond Morris discharged generously and admirably, culminating in the publication in Oxford in 1985 of The Art of Ancient Cyprus, a seminal archaeo-aesthetic work on the culture of this seductive island, illustrating it with his own line drawings and photographs. The launch of the book, which coincided with an exhibition of some of his major objects at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (April-May 1985) introduced by Prof. Vassos Karageorghis, revealed the beauty and humour of this cross-cultural civilisation influenced by Egypt, the Levant and the Mediterranean world.

As well as amassing a large collection of Cypriot antiquities, Desmond Morris also collected items from other cultures, including Roman and Chinese. Various pieces from his private collection have gone on to grace the homes of private individuals or to be viewed publically in Museums across the world.


Desmond Morris's commentary on Early Bronze Age pottery

The following commentary was specifically created for a previous Ancient & Oriental exhibition.


Vessels from Cyprus, The Early Bronze Age wares.

'A cynic once described archaeology as ‘the study’ of second hand crockery’. This joke definition underlines two important points. First, the ancient art we have available to us today does not display a remarkably high proportion of pottery vessels. This is partly due to the fact that fired clay is so indestructible. Even when smashed to pieces, the vessels survive as pottery shreds that are easy to analyze. It is also partly due to the fact that most tomb goods were required two special functions: that they had to be ‘special’ to honour the dead by their high quality, and they had to contain sustenance for the long journey to the other world. In other words there was a social pressure on mourners, when placing objects inside a tomb, to make their offerings both beautiful and at the same time capable of containing food or drink. This pressure led inevitably to a preponderance of carefully fashioned vessels, and it elevated ceramics into a much more dominant art form that it is today.

Second, the use of the world ‘crockery’ helps to emphasize the great difference between the ancient pottery vessels and the modern ones we use today. To the prehistoric potter, each vessel was like a hollow piece of sculpture, to be lovingly and individually shaped and decorated. As a result most of the ancient vessels that have come down to us can be treated as significant works of art.

It is worth asking who made the vessels and under what circumstances. Who were these early artists? Here it is necessary to make a distinction between handmade and wheelmade vessels. We know from anthropological studies of modern tribal communities that handmade pottery is typically produced by women and wheelmade pottery by men. It seems as if the process of handmaking pottery is somehow more akin to such activities as making and baking bread or decorating clothing, which are carried out by females. The social role of the pottery artist in early, pre wheel communities is essentially feminine. It is likely that these potters were village specialists respected for the skills, who provided their services at two levels. Ordinary, everyday pottery would be produced rather simple for house use, and in addition there would be ‘special pieces’ made for important funerals. Many of the tomb goods are clearly not intended for everyday use. They have clearly been designed to honour the dead by their inventiveness, complexity and ornateness. How surprised they would be, to find their works of art, carefully restored, sitting in glass cases, thousands of years later, when all they had intended was to ptovide something almost as ephemeral as wreath of flowers on a modern grave.

The Early Bronze Age, with it’s cultural affluence led to the provision of huge quantities of grave goods to accompany the corpse and pottery production flourished. Painstakingly rock cut tombs were hewn for the dead, with cave like chambers approached by an entrance passage, and sealed by a large stone slab. From these grave goods we have by now a fairly clear picture of the major pottery sequences as the Bronze Age Moves through its various phases. The Early Bronze Age, once thought to have lasted for only two centuries, is now estimated to have stretched over almost a whole millennium B.C.. It is dominated by polished ware pottery, usually Red polished, but with many variants.'

Desmond Morris, author of “The Art of Ancient Cyprus”

Early Bronze Age Pottery Vessels from Cyprus, c. 2700 – 1900 B.C.


Ca Mau Shipwreck Pottery

Ca Mau 1

  When Vietnamese fishermen discovered a historical shipwreck about 90 nautical miles south of the Ca Mau Peninsula in southern Vietnam in 1998, they hauled up more than 30,000 artefacts and 2.4 tons of metal objects in their nets. Subsequently, a Vietnamese diving and excavation company, working in close collaboration with the Ca Mau Provincial Museum and other responsible agencies, began to salvage the ship. In 1998 and 1999 more than 130,000 artefacts were recovered from this 450m2 site.

  Sometime between 1723 and 1735, a Chinese junk sank off the coast of Vietnam’s farthest point in the South China Sea. Its cargo consisted of chinaware, porcelains, blue and white ware, porcelains decorated in brown, white-glazed porcelains over-glazed with enamels, and various stoneware, all originating from different kilns in southern China. The exact journey of the Ca Mau junk is still not clear, but It is believed the wreck was a Chinese merchant's junk on its way from Canton (Guangzhou) to Batavia when it caught fire and sank in about 1725. The goods on board had been ordered by the merchant for Dutch traders, who had limited access to China and its ports.

  The shipwreck contained numerous types of porcelain, designed for the European market. Included are blue and white dishes, sometimes in sets of five, decorated with the well-known so-called ‘Scheveningen’ landscape (formerly known as the ‘Deshima’ décor), depicting a typical Dutch fishing village. In the background the sails of fishing boats are visible in between the roofs of houses, a church, and a fire beacon (executed in Chinese style). Chinese dishes with European motifs were made to order and are known as ‘Chine de commande’. European motifs were, apparently, very popular. They appear not only on dishes, but also on cups, plates, and other kitchen- or table- ware.

  The ship was involved in trading Chinese ceramics and portrays how Vietnam participated in the large inter-Asian trade between East and West. Vietnam was an important hub in the flourishing Asian trade. Similarly, the Dutch would have had access to the larger European markets. 


CA Mau 2

Tek Sing Shipwreck Pottery

Tek Sing  The port of Amoy had been central to the country’s trading prowess. It was here that a large junk – the Tek Sing, or True Star – was moored. Bound for Jakarta, she was loaded with precious cargo: porcelain, silks, spices, and medicines. There was so much cargo that some was even strapped to the outside of the ship's hull. Antique porcelain from a wreck can be worth more than its weight in gold, so the treasure hunters were keen to have the haul examined by experts. They were surprised to find that the porcelain originated from many different places and dates. Some pieces must have been around 100 years old when they were loaded. Many of the items were new to marine archaeologists, and provided valuable insights into Chinese life.

Tek Sing 2


  Tek Sing’s porcelain cargo had been packed so tightly, that even after nearly 200 years under the silt and coral, many examples were in almost pristine condition. On May 12, 1999, Michael Hatcher discovered the wreck of the Tek Sing in an area of the South China Sea north of Java, east of Sumatra and south of Singapore. His crew raised about 350,000 pieces of the ship's cargo in what is described as the largest sunken cache of Chinese porcelain ever recovered.



Hoi An Shipwreck Pottery

Hoi An 1  This porcelain comes from the Hoi An shipwreck, sank in the late 15th-early 16th century (approximately A.D 1490), making Hoi An pottery far older than Tek Sing or Ca Mau pottery. Little is known about the vessel, including her name, so the hoard has been named after the nearby town of Faifo, today known as Hoi An.

  Fishermen from the area discovered the wreck in the early 90s, snaring finds of blue and white pottery within their fishing nets. Taking them to the nearby town would soon prompt further exploration of the waters. The government, realising the importance of the cargo, soon got involved and ordered underwater excavations, which took place from 1997-1999. Excavation uncovered the trading vessel shipwreck, located in some of Vietnams most hazardous seas. The shipwreck was in fact located in the middle of a typhoon zone known as the Dragon Sea. Inside, more than 150,000 objects were found. Produced in the middle 15th century, these ceramics comes from the Hai Duong province (North Vietnam), which is know to be the biggest production center of ceramics and porcelain of medieval Vietnam. At that time, the Ming dynasty in China decreed a ban on maritime exports to Southeast Asia and other countries, leaving the opportunity for Vietnam to foster its ceramics and porcelain production.

Hoi An 2  Ceramics from the Hoi An Hoard are considered to be known as the most precious and complete representation of Vietnamese artisanship in glazed ceramics. They are far rarer than their Chinese counterparts, from Tek Sing.





The horse in Chinese art and culture

Tang Horse  Throughout China's long past, no animal has affected its history as greatly as the horse. Ever since its domestication in north-eastern China around 5,000 years ago, the horse has been an integral figure in the creation and survival of the Middle Kingdom. Its significance has been such that as early as the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600-1100 BC), horses and the vehicles they powered were entombed with their owners for the afterlife. During the Western Zhou Dynasty (ca. 1100-771 BC) military strength was measured by the number of war chariots available to a particular kingdom. As the military significance of the horse increased, so did its role in court recreational activities. The social status and the power were displayed by the number of horses owned and their appearance in lavish public displays. "Dancing" dressage horses delighted emperors in court ceremonies as early as the Han Dynasty, reaching their peak with the elaborate performances of the Tang Dynasty. During the Tang, both polo and hunting from horseback became fashionable for both sexes. From this period, female court attendants on horses appear in art, in tomb sculpture. 

  China created three of the most important innovations in equestrian history: the horse collar, the stirrup and a reliable and effective harnessing system based on the breast strap. One of the great paradoxes of Chinese history is that despite the horse's significance to the survival of the empire, domestic horse-breeding programs were rarely successful. As a result, China was forced to import horses from its nomadic neighbours throughout most of the imperial period.  Silk had been traded for horses during the Han Dynasty (157 – 87 BC). Tea was the commodity of trade during the Song Dynasty (681 – 907), and so began the history of ‘Tea for Horses’ markets. Tea production was controlled by China and they attempted to maintain the prices of tea at an artificially high level in order to acquire more horses. During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), these markets were again used when horse populations were once again depleted.

The Importance of the Fat Lady in Chinese Tang Art

Fat Lady 2   

  The Tang Era of Chinese history is heralded as a golden age, witnessing the prosperity of culture, economy, diplomacy and politics under a centralized government. Stability within China had led to an expansion of foreigners entering and habituating within the country, bringing with them their own cultural and social habits. Where political prosperity flourished, so too did culture. A new movement was ushered in, with a new outlook that was sensitive and yet bold, open to new ideas partly influenced by the surge in foreign integration. As such, normal class and social boundaries were dispelled with. The emergence of the ‘Court Fat Lady’ as a popular image of Chinese identity first made its appearance with the Empress Wu Zetian, who named her empire Zhou. Women were romanticized and heroised. They were liberated in all sense of the word. Previously the taste for women, especially concubines, had steered towards the slim and slight woman. The new fashion preferred the more buxom figure, as indulgent as the new liberties women enjoyed. Plump women of the high court were enjoying their heyday, represented in art and poetry, popular in the royal household. It is said that the most famous of Court lady, Yang Guifei, the consort of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756) set the fashion for ladies of ample form. Clothing and fashions accommodated Yang’s more mature figure and for the first time, long, loose fitting robes with high necklines became court fashion accompanied by elaborate hairstyles. One particular hairstyle is often seen on fat lady statues, made famous by the following story.

   Returning from a hunting trip one day, Yang fell off her horse and the high arrangement of her hair came loose on one side. If anything, the delightfully disheveled state of her hair made her look even more beautiful, so it was not surprising that the other palace ladies rushed to copy her style, with her bedraggled appearance. Yang’s influence was to last for generations with the Chinese idiom 'Yanshou Huanfei' ('Plump Yang, Slender Fei') referring to the range of types of beauty celebrated in Chinese culture. The Fat Lady is the sculptural embodiment of celebrated beauty.

   Our own examples of a ‘Fat Court Lady’ beautifully exemplify the typical Tang style, with her ample form clearly on display with rounded, rosy cheeks and curved stomach. She strikes a mature, demure and elegant figure. Her hands are delicately placed, resting in front of her stomach or raised in varying styles. Her hair often resembles the unconfined nature described in the Yang story above, shaken free from its constraints due to her horse-tumbling escapade.

The Professor Zahid Pervez Butt Collection

Professor Collection


   This impressive collection of sculptures originates from the Ghandaran Empire (2nd Century BC-2nd Century AD) and encompasses a group of sizeable grey-schist and terracotta sculptures depicting Buddha and Buddha prior to his enlightenment in the form of the Prince Siddharta Gautama.

  Each piece is unique and depicts Buddha in a variety of poses, the rendering of the limbs and differing attributes having particular significance or referring to specific events in Buddha’s life.

  The Ghandaran Empire was located in what is now largely occupied by North-West India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The art and sculpture of the region that has come to be known as Ghandaran combines Hellenistic or Graeco-Roman artistic techniques and modelling with Indian Buddhist iconography to create a recognisably Indian hybrid. By the end of 1st Century these aesthetic traditions had developed into a recognisable Ghandaran style.

  Professor Butt established the Zahid Butt Kashmir Museum in Islamabad over a period of thirty-five years. Since childhood he was fasincated by the country of Kashmir, its art, peoples and natural beauty. Continuing in his fathers footsteps, himself an antiques lover and connoisseur, Professor Butt went onto form a vast collection of artworks and publish his travelogue of Kashmir ‘Passage to Paradise, A lover in search of beauty’.

Please see our Ghandaran Empire section for individual pieces.