Blossoming plum

Jeong Tae-o’s eight-panel screen shows plum trees with blossoming flowers. Each panel contains an independent composition in which an old tree trunk has produced slender new branches with delicate blossoms. Only the second panel shows slender branches jutting out in the opposite direction. Plum blossoms sprout on fresh thin branches that have grown from the older branches. Jeong Tae-o (active 1800s), whose pen name was U-eum and who was also known as Jeong Tae-gyu, was famous for his plum paintings.

The blossoming plum is traditionally associated with other plants in symbolic combinations: the grouping known as the Three Friends of Winter (Sehan samu) consists of the blossoming plum, the pine, and bamboo; and the Four Virtuous Gentlemen (Sagunja) group consists of the blossoming plum, orchids, chrysanthemums, and bamboo. Because plum flowers blossom even before the snow melts, they are thought of as harbingers of happy times.


Letters from the Thai alphabet are loosely pinned together to form an outline of the Buddha. These letters, cut from industrial mesh, form Buddhist sayings that Jakkai Siributr, a practicing Buddhist, chants daily. Amulets depicting the Buddha, respected monks, and kings hang from the text. Amulets are charms blessed by monks and given to worshippers at temples, often worn on the body as a reminder of the Buddha’s teachings. As Jakkai has observed in Thailand, amulets blessed by monks believed to possess magic powers have become talismans that are being worshipped by people so that good fortune, prosperity, and safety will come their way. Jakkai views the use of amulets for luck and instant gratification as a perversion of their intended function as inspiration to devotees. He notes that the absent Buddha, present only in outline, represents the disappearance of Buddhism’s true principles.

Jakkai Siributr works primarily in the textile medium. His fascination with textiles and embroidery began as a child in Bangkok, and he went on to study textile design in college and graduate school in the United States before returning to live and work in Thailand. His meticulously handmade tapestry and installation works make statements about religious, social, and political issues in contemporary Thailand. His art is preoccupied with the interaction of Buddhism and materialism in modern life and with the everyday popular culture of Thailand.

Ewer with lid

Goryeo dynasty ewers often derived their shapes from natural forms such as melons or double gourds. This ewer, however, takes its shape from a metal prototype, judging from the cylindrical body, the sharp angled flat shoulder, and the looping flat handle accented with a crisp outline. Its lid, which is in the form of a double lotus and has a jewel on the top, makes an effective contrast to the simple unadorned body. The glaze covers the bottom of the base and the foot is carefully wiped. The traces of three spur marks can be spotted under the glaze at the bottom. The gray-blue glaze is thin, transparent, and lustrous.

The beauty of this refined form and exquisite glaze exemplifies the highest aesthetic quality demanded by the court and the aristocracy. Celadon works such as this piece prompted the young Chinese official Xu Jing (1091-1153), who came with the Chinese embassy to Korea in 1123 from the court of Huizong emperor (r. 1101-1125), to compare Goryeo celadon to Chinese imperial ru wares that were produced in China at the time as well as the “secret color” of earlier Chinese yue wares. In a later time the outstanding beauty of Goryeo celadon made another Chinese writer, whose pen name was Taiping Laoren, to include them among the objects he considered the “first under heaven.”

Krishna overcoming the serpent Kaliya

When the serpent king Kaliya poisons the Yamuna River with his venom Krishna steps in to save the day. The serpent tries to crush Krishna in his coils, but Krishna escapes, overpowers the serpent, and tramples him under his dancing feet. The serpent and his wives beg Krishna for mercy. Krishna, instead of killing the serpent, swears it to stop poisoning the river and banishes him and his family to the ocean.

This episode connects to the current predicament of sacred rivers in the Indian subcontinent. The Ganges, the holiest river in India, and its tributary the Yamuna have in recent years have become heavily polluted. Echoing Krishna’s restoration of the river and acknowledging its religious significance, scientists, environmentalists, and religious leaders have taken action to begin restoration of these sacred rivers.

Bowl with Arabic inscription

This bowl represents a high point in epigraphic ware production under the Persian Samanid dynasty (819-1005). The elaborate kufic version of the Arabic script is embellished with knotted interlaces and leafy flourishes that show off the artisan’s skill. A sharp instrument was used to achieve the crisp edges of the slipware-painted script. The decoration of this bowl consists of an Arabic proverb that may be translated as, “Surely knowledge is the noblest of the innumerable virtues and manliness is the most intricate of lineages.” This proverb is also found on wares now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Reza Abbasi Museum, Tehran. Inscriptions on other bowls and dishes discuss the delights of eating, and it has been suggested that reading the inscriptions may have provided a form of entertainment. In cosmopolitan Samanid society this might have been the case.

The conical bowl form with straight, flaring sides and a flat base is a practical one and seems to derive, as do many Islamic ceramic forms, from a more expensive metal prototype in silver.

Wrapping cloth

“Bojagi” is a general term for all wrapping cloths in Korea. Most bojagi were made with specific people and functions in mind, like when mothers crafted bojagi for their daughters before weddings. Bojagi were viewed more as craft pieces than artwork, and it is only in recent decades that the aesthetic value of bojagi was rediscovered. By sewing together small, used cloth of various shapes and skillfully juxtaposing vibrant colors, the unknown makers of these bojagi created an exciting design akin to modern abstract art.

Depending on its function, design, structure, and user, bojagi can have other names. For example, bojagi made for covering a table is called “sang bo” (“sang” means table, and “bo” is an abbreviation of bojagi). Because the bojagi on display are patchworks of cloth remnants, they are “jogak bo” (“jogak” means small pieces). Different names apply to various patchwork designs, as well as suggest those meant for royalty and for ordinary people.

Page of calligraphy

Mir Ali Haravi was so famous as a calligrapher that the major artistic patrons of his age in Iran, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan fought for his services. Examples of his work were collected by royal patrons in India and Iran in the centuries to follow. Mir Ali produced designs for large-scale architectural inscriptions as well as album page like this one. He was the master of nasta’liq (“hanging script”), the script in which the verses here are written. The aesthetic appeal of elegant poetry was enhanced by the work of skilled calligraphers and illuminators, as seen in this example.

Miniature shrine with the Hindu deity Vishnu sleeping on the cosmic ocean

The universe has been destroyed. In the interval before it is recreated, nothing is left but limitless ocean. On this ocean floats Vishnu, lying on a serpent, asleep. The universe now persists, like a dream, within the sleeping god. When the time is right, he will put forth from his navel the god Brahma, who will reconstruct the universe, and the cycle will begin again.

This form of Vishnu, asleep on the cosmic ocean, is the central image of one of the most important Hindu temples in southern India, the Shri Ranganatha Temple at Shrirangam. This miniature shrine is an abbreviated representation of that vast temple. Its general form recalls the temple’s towers, and the dome shape in its upper part recalls the superstructure of the temple’s central building. In front of the dome-shaped element in both the miniature and the real building is an arched panel with a standing half-figure of Vishnu in a special form as the ultimate supreme deity. Below the reclining Vishnu is another standing Vishnu flanked by his consorts, a pair of door guardians, and other figures.

Architectural panel

This panel is part of a wide marble band that once encircled the central courtyard of the royal palace of Sultan Ala’ al-Daulah Mas’ud III (born 1061), the twelfth ruler of the Ghaznavid dynasty. The band comprised more than five hundred such panels and was 820 feet (250 meters) in length. Only forty-four panels were found in their original position. Many others, including this one, had been reused elsewhere in Ghazni after the palace fell into disuse. This is one of the few complete examples known to exist outside Afghanistan. Each panel carried a small part of an overall inscription, a poem eulogizing the ancestors of Mas’ud III and describing his achievements. This panel is one of the first examples on which the Persian language was used instead of Arabic for a monumental inscription. Originally, the inscription was painted in ultramarine blue against a red background, a common color scheme at the time (the colors have since deteriorated).