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Viewing the past: Mr. Tang's Vase with Dragon Pattern and Victoria Beckham's Blue and White Dragon Gown

Wei-Tien Chang, Institute of Sinology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

1. Mr. Tang's Vase with Dragon Pattern

In 2003, eBay launched a commercial in Taiwan, depicting Mr. Tang as breaking Mrs. Tang's beloved Pendragon vase, causing Mrs. Tang to be furious. Fortunately, Mr. Tang found another vase with the same dragon pattern through eBay's online auction platform, making up for his mistake and saving his marriage. When the advertisement came out, it immediately became the talk of the town. ‘Mr. Tang's vase’ became a classic in the advertising industry.

In the forty-second commercial, the vase is not described in much detail. The camera only shows the vase individually on a stand, showing the extent of Mrs. Tang's love for it. In addition to the subtle relationship between husband and wife, the rarity of the vase is definitely the key to the ad's finishing touch.

The rare image of the dragon vase is likely to come from museum/art gallery exhibitions and the sales in auction market. Through viewing, the advertisers bring the vase into the family life of the Tang couple, to bring out the great power of the second-hand website platform. Through watching, the audience receives the message that the advertiser intends to convey through the rare vase.

At first glance, the advertisement for the dragon vase appears to be a creative idea that uses art in the content of the advertisement, and has little to do with inspiring the creative inspiration of products/arts. However, it is said that a seller on the Yahoo auction site, which was a rival of eBay at the time, took advantage of this wave of discussion to sell a vase with the word ‘蟠龍 (coiling dragon)’ written on it in his online store. (*1) This result may seem ironic and interesting now. I wonder how the viewers of the vase would have reacted if they had seen this advertisement 600 or 700 years ago. On the other hand, what would be the interpretation of the viewers after 600 or 700 years?

 

2. Victoria Beckham's Blue and White Dragon Gown

The official V&A Blog of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London published an article on September 24, 2015, to sort out how the fashion industry in the 21st century is taking inspiration from Chinese blue and white porcelain works and recreating the art.(*2)  One of the most common examples is the transfer of blue and white patterns to fabric, which is reconstructed, retrieved and transformed into wearable clothing. Or break the porcelain and put it on the clothes and shoes in a mosaic way. What is more special is the direct use of incomplete porcelain collages into a dress.

Among the many examples collected by the author, perhaps one of the most original pieces is the blue and white dragon gown worn by Victoria Beckham. (*3) It was not the most labor-intensive nor the most unexpected. The dress was inspired by a pair of dragon vases with handles in the shape of elephant heads in the British Museum's collection (fig. 1). Roberto Cavalli directly transposed the pattern from the dragon vase onto the dress, although the pattern on the lower back of the dress is different from the original, and the collar pattern was probably transferred from another piece. However, the designer still cleverly reproduced the original curves and patterns of the dragon vase onto the dress through the cut of the dress and the position of the pattern. The planet pattern at the waist of the gown and the dragon pattern that extends below the waist to the front of the gown and rises upward echo the position of the two original motifs: the neck, which is the shortest in diameter, and the belly, which is the widest. It can be said that the designer has transferred the design of the double-handled dragon vase to the gown, and this gown is a perfect interpretation of cross-material and cross-functional artistic creation.

We have no way of guessing, when the dress designer looked at the original double-handled dragon vase on display at the British Museum, whether it was a graceful body that came to mind. What is certain is that the designer's creative thinking makes the viewers have more interesting experiences in addition to aesthetics. Many times, people get the information carried in art through such interesting experience.

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3.    Blue and White Easy-Open Cans, Melted Blue and White Porcelain

 

The first two paragraphs show how blue and white porcelain, as a work of art, inspires the viewer's creative thinking from the perspective of image and costume respectively. Ornament, shape and material (hardness) are the three elements that inspire viewers in blue and white porcelain. In addition to the above-mentioned patterns and shapes, disrupting the viewer's perception with materials is also a method. For example, hard porcelain was made into (presumably soft) dresses; soft cloth was matched with the porcelain pattern, cut and ironed into an upright shape. Alternatively, the blue-and-white porcelain can be fired directly into a molten liquid shape that flows over the tabletop. There are also viewers depicting blue-and-white patterns on ceramic easy-opening cans. All of these examples are inspired by blue-and-white porcelain. 

 

4. Art is a Viewable Past

 

As far as we know, blue patterns were painted on the surface of white ceramics as early as the ninth century in the northern part of China today. Whether the motive for painting the blue pattern on the white ceramic may be inspired by Islamic glassware, or whether there are other possibilities, is yet to be determined. But what is clear is that the process by which artisans get their creative ideas may not be very different from ours today. They were also inspired by looking at objects from the past and may have acted similarly to today. 

One thousand years ago, it was popular to decorate ceramic objects with mandarin ducks in today's northern China. There are different ways of expressing the theme of the mandarin ducks. Some of them describe the swimming mode of the mandarin ducks in detail and give a complete account of the scene, and even the plants growing in the pools are also depicted, such as a Ding ware dish with molded decoration of mandarin ducks. In a similar era, we can also see the practice of directly writing the two characters of mandarin duck (鴛鴦) on the surface of the objects. Although the two objects are different in shape and use, the results after viewing the mandarin duck pattern alone remind us of the broken dragon vase in Mr. Tang's advertisement, and the vase with the word ‘蟠龍 (coiling dragon)’ on it sold on Yahoo. The Mandarin duck pillow should also be a creative idea of the designer after looking at the Mandarin duck decoration.

For blue and white porcelain, it is common to have a white surface with a blue pattern, the other is to first coatthe entire surface with blue glaze, and leave the pattern blank. Although people 600 years ago would not necessarily associate the shape of the vase with body, the appropriation of similar design concepts can also be seen in costumes and ceramic vessels (Fig. 2 and 3). This design of white patterns on a blue background can be traced back to the fourteenth-century blue-and-white dragon porcelain produced during the Mongol Yuan period (fig. 4).

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Fig. 3. Portrait of a Youth, Attributed to Iran, late 16th century. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, H. 29. 5 cm W. 19.2 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

The moment when art is completed, it becomes the past available for viewing. Art is the past that can be viewed. Creative thinking, could be the process by which people look at the past and then find a way to express their thoughts in the present.

Notes:

*1   News link: https://tw.appledaily.com/entertainment/20030620/O72M76ITTQ7FIOTK5FD6ZFZZOM/ (accessed on May 21, 2022).

*2.  V&A Blog link: https://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/blue-and-white/blue-and-white-fashion accessed on May 21, 2022).

 

*3.  See the above blog page for photos.