Sunday, May 10, 2015

Chinese precursors of Japanese stone lanterns



Stone lanterns are a recurring topic in my blog (see http://lomov.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/stone-lanterns-at-singapore-japanese.html). Here, I would like to share a few observations and speculations prompted by my last year’s trip to China. Seeing various old or traditional objects made me think of a possible evolutionary line that terminated in contemporary Japanese stone lantern. It is well known that the earliest examples of pedestal lanterns in Japan were bronze and that they partly owe their origin to the hanging and free-standing counterparts made of the same material. However, looking at traditional ceremonial vessels and incense burners in China made me think that it all could have started with a humble cook-pot (see the progression of images above). Images above show left to right: ding food vessel (11th century BC, China), temple incense burner (Shanghai), roofed temple incense burner (Shanghai), movable stone lantern (Kyoto). 

The left image below shows an elaborate temple incense burner in Shanghai. The image on the right shows an incense burner in Kamakura. They both share common features yet the Japanese counterpart is more reminiscent of the Japanese stone lantern.

Below are a few images of pedestal bronze lanterns I photographed in Nara, Kyoto and Kamakura. These are somewhat less commonly seen in Japan. The leftmost image shows the oldest extant pedestal lantern in Japan (8th century), which has been designated the rank of national treasure (see my post about Todai-ji temple here http://lomov.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/todai-ji-nara.html).

Back to China now. During my travels there I observed a number of traditional architectural and interior design features which bare certain similarities with the Japanese lanterns and could have been incorporated into their design. Images below show a few examples.

The Forbidden Palace in Beijing had stone incense burners that were remarkably similar to Japanese stone lanterns, but I am not sure if they predate the wide spread popularity of stone lanterns in the 17th century Japan. Apparently, the oldest stone lantern in Japan dates back to the 8th century. The two leftmost images below show stone incense burners at the Forbidden Palace, while the two rightmost images show Japanese stone lanterns in Kyoto temples.

To conclude this post, let’s see more stone lanterns. Below are images of some lanterns in Kamakura.

Below, more stone lanterns from Tokyo.

Finally, a bunch of lanterns from Kyoto, Nara and … Can you pick the odd one out? The image in the bottom left corner shows a modern day street light in Shanghai. Its design is inspired by the Japanese stone lanterns yet it retains a number of distinctly Chinese features.


You can also see images of stone lanterns from Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa here: http://lomov.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/katsura-rikyu.html

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