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NANHAI MARINE ARCHAEOLOGY BLOG PAGE
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The true age of the Yuan dynasty flask

by Sten Sjostrand on 11/05/10

Refer to below blog for background:

After few more emails reminding the museum curator to share the dating result, I finally got an email saying that the museum messages had been quarantined, the reason for the delay in responding. In the meantime, the TL dating of the flask had come back and: quote it was indeed a fake and had been returned to the owner unquote.

After confirming the true age of the flask, the museum curator asks me to keep this information confidential. Whilst I will keep the museum and the curator’s name and location confidential I will not be part of keeping the facts of a museum piece away from those interested to know. We all do mistakes but when corrected, we should admit to it. This is part of our public responsibilities if we work with providing knowledge about our historical past.

Having been published as a 700 year old Yuan dynasty flask, the museum should now publish the TL dating result and the true date of the flask. My email question if a corrective article would be published remains unanswered until this date.

Sten

Museum publishes a fake porcelain flask as a genuine artifact

by Sten Sjostrand on 10/10/10

A friend of mine sent a scanned page of a well-known museum newsletter which featured an antique --Yuan dynasty flask-- and asked my opinion about its authenticity. It was immediately obvious (even from the scanned page) that the flask was a recent fake. The reply to my friend was short: Quote: If there is one thing the flask is NOT, it is from the Yuan dynasty! I mean, NEVER, ever! Unquote.

 After communicating my initial opinion directly with the museum curator (whom had written the article about the flask) I summarized my observations as follows: Quote: I was also interested in the unusual style of rendering and the use of outlines and the cobalt density. When comparing with the Chinese sample (a similar but authentic flask found in China in the 1970s) the flowers, the scroll, handle and foot ring all appeared --stiff--and out of place. So, I wondered if potters/decorators in the Yuan dynasty had as much variations in their painting as in later times. But, still, the flask is unusual, surprising, and unique and possibly also suspect. Unquote

At this time I was told by the curator that the flask was about to undergo TL (Thermoluminescence) dating. One may of course wonder why the flask was first published as a genuine piece in a museum newsletter and then submitted for scientific dating! Nonetheless, the curator promised to keep me informed about the dating result whenever it would be available. At the same time, the museum curator said: Quote: All your work on the shipwrecks has helped me immensely and it would be great if you could come to (the place of the museum) to give a talk and check all the ceramics in our holdings. Unquote. From this it is evident that even well-educated professional and experienced museum curators are confused by the many --good--fakes in circulation today and recognize that many opinions are needed to ascertain the authenticity of genuine antiques.

 Many months later and numerous email remainders, I have not heard anything from the curator about the TL dating despite her promises to keep me informed. It is very likely that the result was not to the liking of the museum which now tries to avoid a likely embarrassment. Even if the museum were to publish a corrective article about the artifact date (which it should) -the damage is done. Not only to the credibility of the museum but also to the whole art-historical community. If there is one place where we would like to study genuine artifacts, it would be in our museums and from their publications. By not sharing the actual date of the piece and leaving the original article standing, the museum have done a grave disservice to all concerned.

 Sadly, it is not the first time that young art-historians have studied --fake-- porcelain pieces in museums -assuming they were genuine artifacts. One can only wonder in disbelieve what these young art-historians in the future will say about absolute genuine pieces.

 So, again (and this is not mean to promote our own artifacts) the only safe way to purchase genuinely old artifacts is to purchase (directly) from properly excavated and documented shipwreck sites. And not from any shipwreck cargoes (as some shipwreck cargoes are known to have been -mixed up- with newly made pieces) but from people with professionalism and integrity.

To view a National Geographic video about the fakery going on in todays China, click on this link: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=nanhai+marine&aq=f  and watch the videos titled --Faking China-- Part 1-3

Sten

 

Learning more about Ming dynasty porcelain:

by Sten Sjostrand on 05/09/10

To purchase a piece of Ming dynasty porcelain, made during that period, is harder than you think. There simply are not that many places where you can buy these genuinely old pieces. One thing is for sure, you do not buy them in China since it is an established fact that serious Chinese collectors (knowing their home markets) go abroad when they want to buy genuine Ming dynasty (1368-1644) pieces.

Even with pocket full of money, you should know some basic information about porcelain in general, where it was made, and what type of clay, glaze and decorations was used during the different times in history. It is not always that the modern fakers know these basic combinations of things and end up making a pot with clay (mined in the same manner and from same source as in the Ming dynasty) but then paint motifs which belong to the later Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

In addition to this, you would be best advised to have a first-hand view of genuine old shipwreck ceramics as it getting popular for fakers to make new pieces of porcelain, soften the glaze with acid and then glue on shells and other form of marine growth just to get the –right feel for a shipwreck piece.

All this and much more you will not learn from one book or over a few years. It takes a lifetime to know it all out. Still it takes a lot of skill, comparison, knowledge and a life-time of feeling different pieces before you can be fully confident with whatever pieces you will study or purchase.

One good source for initial information about Ming dynasy porcelain is in my latest book: -The Wanli Shipwreck and its Ceramic cargo-. Dont take my word for it but the book has received very good review which you can read about on: http://www.mingwrecks.com/publications.html  (You can also order the book from the same web site). This 380 page publication covers all aspect of archaeology on the Wanli shipwreck site, plus an informative historical background section about the porcelain production at Jingdezhen -The porcelain center of the world. The book include a full catalogue of all available types of porcelain and decorations available on the Wanli shipwreck pieces. This is thus an easy way of learning a lot about Ming dynasty porcelain, forms and decorations at that time. So....?

Sten

How to start collecting?

by Sten Sjostrand on 04/08/10

I often get the question: -how to start collecting. The answer tends to be lengthy but usually include -Rob a bank and buy what you fall in love with. It is true that good antiques are costly. Even fakes made yesterday are offered at a high price which, supposedly, helps deceiving the buyer to believe that they view a genuine antique piece. Here at Nanhai Marine Archaeology we do not have such problem as ALL our artifacts are genuinely old and from the date stated by us. So, dont worry about authenticity, concentrate on what you like.

You can collect one type or form from each of our shipwrecks so that you can see the development of that type or form over the centuries. You can also stick to artifacts from one shipwrecks (from one time in history) and collect all the different forms in that cargo. Or, why not just stick to celadon wares, teapots blue and white porcelains or bowls, plates or uprights from all wrecks and all ages?

Do not try to get an entire collection in one day. Take your time, think about it, read about it and by all means start with lower quality pieces which are more affordable. It is easier and fun to look for the better quality pieces later and then -sell off the initial pieces.

And, whatever you do, do not clutter up the bookshelf with too many artifacts as each of them will look cheap. Give each artifact the respect it deserves and provide ample room for each piece.

Finally; read all you can find about your artifacts. When you know the background, the story and the development of each of your pieces, they will actually communicate with you! This is very much so when it comes to painted designs which carries symbolic and auspicious meanings. See: http://www.thewanlishipwreck.com/Medallions.html and you will, after some time, understand what the decorator tried to tell you 400 years ago!

Remember the most important thing about a personal collection is that it reveals the collectors interest and knowledge. This is what makes any meaningful collection interesting and valuable.

After all, there is no need to rob a bank. Many of our artifacts are very affordable and most important; absolutely genuinely old!

Sten

Dear collectors and friends!

by Sten Sjostrand on 04/08/10

The intent with this blog is to keep you informed about our work, what others say about our archaeology and about our shipwreck artifacts.

But the most important contributions will (or should) come from all your questions and comments. Please, go ahead and use this page to help me making it more interesting and informative. Your entries are anonymous so feel free to ask questions or comment on anything you feel is important to you or to other visitors.

Your questions and comments can be about ANYTHING. That is the nice thing about this page!

Best

Sten

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