Once upon a time an old gentleman moved into the house across the
street. Whence he came no one knew, no one ever came to know. His name
was Kyttyle–Major Kyttyle. As midsummer marked his advent, he probably
felt properly attired when he appeared on the lawn that first day, to
survey his new domain, in a basket-shaped hat of straw and a suit of
East-India-looking stuff. Major Kyttyle’s face was seamed and bronzed. I
imagine his hair would have been as white as the snows of Dhawalaghiri
had it not been as extinct as the Hippuritidæ, revealing a shining pink
dome as reflecting as the pool of Anuradhapura at sunset, visible as now
and then he would lift his hat to mop his brow.
Major Kyttyle’s installation was followed by the arrival of countless
foreign-looking trunks and boxes and the neighborhood naturally wondered
what on earth the major had in them. Mrs. Minch was of the opinion that
a lone man could have no use for such a lot of truck. Mrs. Bittles
ventured the opinion that Major Kyttyle might not be so “lone” after
all; he might have a family and it might arrive later. “Families”
usually did. Mrs. Minch only sniffed. “I can tell a bachelor anywhere,”
she declared with conviction. And she could.
However, although no family came upon the scene, a whole menagerie
arrived one by one, from distant parts, to keep the major company and to
scandalize the town. There was a pet monkey, a poll parrot, a Persian
cat, and a globe of diaphanous-tailed goldfish the like of which had
never been dreamed of thereabouts and which quite put to rout the two
gilded minnows owned by the Pickhams, which till then had been the only
exotics in the district and had lent a certain distinction to the
Pickhams to which, socially, their breeding did not entitle them.
As time went on Major Kyttyle brought to him a few congenial spirits and
yet the little group really found out nothing about the major’s past
beyond the fact that he had lived in the Far East for years. Why he had
come to America no one knew. Why he had settled in our uneventful valley
no one could guess. In fact, deliberately to choose the spot was thought
to be an indication of mental weakness. But if there is anything that
the major was not, that thing is mentally weak. No one else could have
had the will power and ingenuity to evade as successfully as did this
gentleman of mystery, the life-history disclosures sought by the Minches
and others who came to “know” the major.
Notwithstanding Mrs. Minch’s earlier disapproval of the number of trunks
and boxes which the “lone man” appeared to have accumulated, she came in
time to revise her opinion when it was discovered that, though decent,
the major’s wardrobe had not comprised his luggage, whereas wonderful
objects of Oriental art at once made it clear that the trunks and boxes
had been put to a very excellent and approved good use when their
unpacking found the major’s house adorned with treasures in the way of
pottery, brasses, rugs, damascened arms, Persian miniatures, Indian
enamels, gem-encrusted jades, and what not.
Frankly, Major Kyttyle might have been as miserable with his treasures
as was Midas with his enchantment had it not been that some of his
neighbors were persons of culture and themselves not only appreciative
of art but versed in some of its branches. Otherwise the major would
have had to depend on whist, which, by the way, he played poorly and to
which he was devoted.
As for the menagerie, it served to bring out the fact that the major
adored children. His yard was always full of them after school let out.
At first those fond mothers who could not be persuaded that the major’s
several East-Indian servants were not one and the same with the tribe of
the son of Hagar, were much distressed, but when these did not steal
forth like pied pipers, they concluded that perhaps they weren’t gypsies
Good old Major Kyttyle, how grateful I am that, mysterious though you
were, you permitted me to browse for hours among the curious and
beautiful things of the Orient that appealed to my child-fancy! And the
marvelous tales you would tell us of their history! How patient you were
with our eager queries! You should have been attached to some great
museum, to interpret its hoardings to the soul of the people.
It was in your house, in the house of the stranger who had come among
us, that I formed some knowledge of the arts of India and of Persia, a
knowledge that made some of the beautiful things which had found their
way from the Far East into my own home greater joys to behold than ever
I suppose I might have taken down one of the heavy volumes of that vast
encyclopedia which so formidably thwarted youth’s enterprise though
advertised to foster it, and have read therein much of what was told me
in less pedantic and less academic style by the major.
If I have seemed to linger beyond the limits of a preface it is not that
I started out to write a eulogy of Major Kyttyle, but rather that in
what I am saying I hope there can be found some hint of the truest sort
of collecting, the noblest sort of a collector–one who uses his
collection as a preacher uses his text, happily discoursing to attentive
ears and not shutting himself up with his treasures, like a medieval
monk of old with book in cell.
The good major went to his rest long since. We had supposed him out of
the land of India, not only because we gleaned from his stories that he
had spent long years in service there, but also because of his
attachment for the arts of India, which he seemed to hold above those of
Persia. But when his grave was marked, the granite shaft provided in his
will as a last luxury bore simply this legend, “_Kyttyle of Khorassan_.”
Mrs. Minch was jubilant. “What did I tell you? A Persian! One never
knows what with these mysterious people.”
It is only within the last half-dozen years that the arts of India and
of Persia have attracted much attention with Americans in general.
Happily, we are out of that stage where everything Asiatic is classed as
either “Turkish” or “Chinese.” The field here for collection is a broad
one and naturally embraces a myriad of objects. Private collections and
public collections of the arts of Persia and of India, including those
of Ceylon, are growing apace. Good things and fine things are appearing
in public sales and are still to be picked up in antique-shops by the
discriminating one who has taken the trouble to study the subject.
Fortunately, the collector now has at hand such excellent books for
reference as the various works by Ananda Coomaraswamy, Vincent Smith,
Martin, Birdwood, Havell, Hendley, and others.
Of Persian objets d’art an anoymous writer in the article on Persia in
“The Everyman Encyclopædia” has said:
The arts and crafts of Persia have suffered terribly from the state
of misrule. Always artistic by nature, many beautiful arts were
theirs, the secret of which has been forgotten through the years of
civil war and trouble. Among them the exquisite lustre-ware,
charming in design and coloring, is now difficult to obtain. The
enamel work for which they were once famous is a lost art; formerly
tiles of this work, exquisite in color and beautiful in pattern,
were freely produced, and many wonderful specimens have been saved
from ancient ruins, and many are still the glory of mosques and
shrines; the predominating color was a very beautiful turquoise
blue in various shades, and a red-golden lustre which gave the work
a peculiar iridescence. Jugs and basins in this enamel work have
been saved, exceedingly beautiful in form and pattern. Silver work
and brass work was an ancient industry; very little is done now.
Carved wood, inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl, is still made
to some extent, also seal-cutting. The Persian art which flourished
in ancient times influenced Greek, Roman and Byzantine art, and was
the father of Saracenic art and architecture, which has travelled
far since its birth.
Persia has ever been famed for its textiles–not only embroideries and
printed cottons but marvelous rugs which stand supreme in beauty. The
old rugs of Persia were ancestors of the carpet of other lands. In this
connection it is worth noting that the Persians never made themselves
ridiculous by the application of inappropriate design. You will not find
an old Persian rug patterned with formal bouquets tied with blue
ribbons, suggesting a gift being trodden underfoot. A Persian floral
patterned carpet will suggest flowers and verdue in their wild state as
the stroller might chance to find them.
Although the impress of the art of the Chinese ceramicist and of the
shawl-weavers of Cashmere exerted some influence upon the Persians,
still the art of Persia from earliest times has retained a national
distinction. Nearly all are objects from the earlier periods now to be
met with date from the reign of the shah Abbas the Great (1586-1628)
when the native art manufacturers reached their greatest degree of
excellence. Thence onward came the decline.
We have only to consider the fact that artistic ornamentation was
applied to innumerable objects in daily service to realize how widely
diffused was the taste for art among the Persians. They have truly been
always an art-loving people. Some one has aptly remarked that every home
in India is a nursery of art, and I think this must once have been true
of the home in Persia. Apropos of Persian ornament it may be remarked
that the native artists have always delighted in varied and symmetrical
patterns of great intricacy. External beauty, too, seems to have been
sought, rather than intrinsic thorough excellence of fabrique,
excepting, of course, the products of the Persian looms and the works of
the masters in metal.
As to Persian pottery, it has always been more or less of a puzzle to
antiquarians. The ancient pieces in a perfect state of preservation are
exceedingly few and rare, and all have been recovered from ruined areas.
There yet remain vast areas to be excavated by enterprising antiquarian
expeditions and later efforts are sure to be productive.
The ancient lustre faience dates back many centuries. Its genre was
carried down as late as 1586. The finest Persian ware resembles Chinese
porcelain somewhat, having a white ground with azure-blue decoration in
bold, free designs. The paste is hard and the color is not blended with
the glaze. Later specimens of this genre have less good design, blending
color, and a glaze showing greater vitrification.
A second sort of Persian faience is thicker, shows a departure from
Chinese influence somewhat, has a softer and more porous paste, is
brighter in the blue, has a less even glaze, and a less well-drawn
design. Red enters, as also relief and gaufrures.
A third sort of ware is denser and harder, of blackish color on a white
ground, with thick glaze, and some pieces have been varnished with
single color. Such pieces in this genre as exhibit figures in the
decoration show these without faces, which would suggest that this class
of pottery was the product of Persian potters of the Mussulman Sunnis
sect, a sect more rigidly opposed to presenting the human face in art
than that of the Shiahs.
A fourth sort of ware is white and translucent, of still harder paste,
and bearing no marks or makers. I have seen this ware only in small
pieces. It is rare and is usually styled _porcelaine blanche de Perse_.
A fifth sort of faience is also translucid, very thin, and ornamented
with lacy designs.
The ruins of Rhages have yielded examples of the sixth sort of faience,
a common pottery of reddish clay varnished with single color, and all
somewhat in imitation of the celadon porcelain of China. The green and
bronze varnish is often very beautiful. Some of these pieces have
designs in relief and gaufrure.
The faience tiles of Persia are among its most interesting and beautiful
ceramic remains. Most of these tiles date from such Seljuk or Mogul
rulers as Malik-Shah (1072), Hulagu Khan (1256), and Ghazan Khan (1295).
India has never produced anything like a porcelain. Even pottery of the
glazed sort rarely appeared previous to the Mussulman tile products,
which tile products were the forerunners of the modern glazed wares
fabricated in Multan, Jeypore, and Bombay. However, unglazed pottery has
been common throughout India for countless centuries.
In speaking of Hindu and Buddhist art Ananda Comaraswamy writes (“The
Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon”):
[Illustration: _Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_
Ewer and Basin Bindri Ware, India, 18th Century Polychrome Persian
Tiles, 17th Century]
[Illustration: _Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_
Chinese Porcelain of The Kang H’si Period, 1662-1723
Jar, Famille Rose Jar, Blue Hawthorn
Vase, Famille Noire Vase, Celadon]
I do not forget that in almost every art and craft, as also in
music, there exists in Hindustan a complete and friendly fusion of
the two cultures. The non-sectarian character of the styles of
Indian art has indeed always been conspicuous; so that it is often
only by special details that one can distinguish Jain from Buddhist
_stupas_, Buddhist from Hindu sculpture, or the Hindu from the
Mussulman minor crafts. The one great distinction of Mughal from
Hindu art is not so much racial as social; the former is an art of
courts and connoisseurs, owing much to individual patronage; the
latter belongs as much to the folk as to the kings.
The alluring arts of the East are well worth one’s study, well deserving
of one’s enthusiasm. Perhaps the illustrations of some of the antiques
of Persia and of India here reproduced from photographs of some of the
fine examples to be found will awaken an interest in the subject in some
who chance upon them. I only hope the world holds more Major Kyttyles of
revered memory, and that you, too, may have the good fortune to be
brought into communion with such treasures as made the major’s home vie
with our conceptions of the palace of Aladdin, treasures which in time
brought even the Pickhams to forgive the major his diaphanous-tailed
goldfish, to feel no longer the sting of the insignificance of their
poor little gilded minnows.
Not to know something of Chinese porcelains, their history and their
periods, is to be denied a pleasurable interest. The old porcelains of
China are the ancestors of all china-wares of the world, and never have
the finest antique fabriques of the Celestial Kingdom been surpassed or
even equaled in beauty and texture.
The potter’s craft, as we all know, had its origin in the dim ages of
the past. Even the discovery of true porcelain must be dated so far back
that we have no authentic record of the era of its origin.
The literature of China ascribes the invention of true porcelain to some
twenty-five hundred years before Christ, but we cannot be certain that
the art of porcelain-making was known and practised until, perhaps,
after the seventh century. While Chinese literature of the early periods
abounds in references to porcelain, we have not a single authentic dated
piece of the very early dynasties. It seems plausible to advance the
theory that true porcelain was an invention or discovery of the Han
dynasty (206 B.C.). The Japanese writer Okakura-Kakuzo has suggested
that to the alchemists of the Han dynasty came accidentally the
discovery of the wonderful porcelain glaze. The literature by Chinese
authors of the T’ang dynasty is rich in references to porcelain. The
poet Tu (803-852), for instance, says:
The porcelain of the Ta-yi kilns is light yet strong,
It rings with a low jade note and is famed throughout the city.
The fine white bowls surpass hoar frost and snow.
The white bowls of Hsing-chou in Chihli and the blue bowls of Yuen-chou
in Che-kiang were highly esteemed and celebrated in song and story.
Their resonance of tone was such that musicians were said to have
The Arabs and Chinese were conducting a flourishing trade during the
eighth and ninth centuries. To Soleyman, one of the early Arabian
traders who wrote an account of his journeyings, we owe the first
mention of China in the literature of the world outside the empire. “In
China,” said he, “they have a very fine clay which they manufacture
vases from, as transparent as glass; water is seen through them.”
Bushell (“Chinese Art,” vol. II) tells us that in the time of the
Emperor Shi Tsung (954-959) of the brief Posterior Chou dynasty
established at K’ai-fêng-fu prior to the Sung dynasty, an imperial
rescript ordered porcelain “as blue as the sky, as clear as a mirror, as
thin as paper and as resonant as a musical stone of jade.”
All the porcelains of the times we have referred to seem long since to
have disappeared and the only knowledge of them which we have to-day is
through the literature of their contemporary writers. The Sung dynasty
(960-1280), the Yuan dynasty (1280-1367), and the Ming dynasty
(1368-1643) open up to us surer knowledge as specimens of the time are
available to students. The porcelains of the Sung and Yuan dynasties may
be classed together. The ceramic production (_yao_) made in the province
of Honan in the town now called Ju-chou-fu–a Sung dynasty porcelain
therefore designated as _Ju-Yao_–stands famous for the qualities of its
blues, which Chinese poets assure us rival the blue blossoms of the
_Vitex incisa_, the Chinese “Sky Blue Flower.”
The imperial ware of the Sung dynasty was the _Kuan Yao_ (two Chinese
words signifying “official ceramic kiln”). Then there was the _Yo Yao_
porcelain, the early crackled ware; and the _Ting Yao_, a porcelain
having a delicate resonant body. This seems to be the most commonly met
with among the wares of the Sung period. The _Lung-ch’üan Yao_ of the
Sung wares is the famed Celadon ware made in the province of Che-kiang.
The Celadon ware of this dynasty is distinguished by its onion-sprout
green color. The Celadon wares of later periods turn more either to
greyish greens or to sea-green hues.
The _Chün yao_ faience was the product of _Chün-chou_, now Yü-chou, a
town of the province of Honan. Marvelous indeed were its glazes of
unsurpassed brilliancy and beauty of color. The transmutation _flambés_
were especially notable.
In the reign of Yung Cheng (1723) the emperor sent a list of Chün-chou
pieces to be reproduced by the imperial potteries in Chung-te-chen, from
which (record of this being extant) we are able to glean some knowledge
of the great variety of glaze colors of the earlier period. In this list
appeared crimson-rose, japonica-pink, sky-blue, plum-color, dark purple,
millet-yellow, flambés, etc. Early in the eighteenth century all these
glazes and colors were reproduced with marvelous skill, but the new
white body was probably infinitely superior to the early body.
The Chien Yao Ware of the Sung dynasty was produced in Fu-kien
province, where lustrous black-enameled tea ceremonial cups were
manufactured. These were dappled with specks of white resembling the
effect of hare’s fur and partridge breasts. The Japanese treasure these
pieces, to which they have given the name “Hare-fur Cups,” above almost
any other varieties of Chinese porcelain.
We now come to the Ming dynasty, and in the reign of Wan-li (1573-1619)
the art of making and decorating porcelain had so advanced that native
contemporaries were fond of declaring there was nothing that could not
be made of the porcelain. The cobalt blues came into favor in this
period, and it is also the time of the famed “Mohammedan blue.” European
and American collectors have given a great deal of attention to the
blue-and-white porcelains that came in with the close of the Ming
dynasty. It was between 1662 and 1722, however, that the very flower of
the blue-and-white porcelain was produced. This marks the reign of K’ang
The K’ang Hsi period (1662-1722) was the culminating one of Chinese
ceramic art. Of this porcelain, Bushell says:
The brilliant renaissance of the art which distinguishes the reign
of K’ang Hsi is shown in every class; in the single-colored
glazes, _la qualité maîtresse de la céramique_; in the painted
decorations of the _grand feu_, of the jewel-like enamels of the
muffle-kiln, and of their manifold combinations; in the pulsating
vigour of every shade of blue in the inimitable “blue and white.”
He also tells us porcelains of the _famille verte_ class pervade the
period while those of the _famille rose_ class may be said to have
ushered in its close. The greens that give the porcelains of the
_famille verte_ and the _famille rose_ classes their names are indeed
gem-like in their beauty. Precious, too, to the collector are the
Blue-and White or the Black Hawthorn Jars of the period. Hawthorn is a
misnomer, for the prunus blossom and not the Hawthorn blossom furnishes
the _motif_ of the decoration. It is interesting to note that the
_Prunus_ blossoms in the white on the blue ground crossed by white
zigzag lines represents to the Oriental fancy the flowers falling on ice
breaking up in the springtime.
The master quality of fine porcelain is its glaze and the glazes of old
Chinese porcelains have never been surpassed. The reigns of Yung Chêng
and his celebrated son, Ch’ien Lung, who lend name to the period from
1723 to 1796, sustained the perfection of Chinese porcelain. The
decadence of the art begins with the modern period, from 1796 to the
The marks on Chinese porcelains are various in character and come under
one or more of the following divisions: marks of date, hall-marks, marks
of dedication and good wishes, marks in praise of the piece of porcelain
inscribed, symbols, and other pictorial marks and potters’ marks. It is
not necessary here to go into the intricacies of these, but they furnish
a fascinating study. This, too, is true of the designs that are to be
found on the decorated pieces of Chinese porcelain. The casual observer
will pick up a piece and admire or dismiss it on the judgment of the
general impression it makes upon his artistic sensibilities. Not so with
the connoisseur, who takes into consideration color, texture, glaze,
and, quite as much as these (so far as intellectual interest is
concerned), the story the design tells.
The porcelains of China, like the sword-guards of Japan, offer the
native artists a vast wealth of mythological and folklore subjects. Then
symbolism and occasion are closely cemented in Oriental thought, and if
the collector of old Chinese porcelains finds their decoration puzzling
at times in its significance, how absorbing are its unravelings!
Since the time of Queen Elizabeth the Western world has recognized the
beauty and the decorative value of the porcelains of China, and at no
time have they sunk in regard. Rarities are no longer likely to be found
hidden away, or acquired for a posy. At the same time, the possession of
a single object and some knowledge of the evolution in ceramics that led
to it are interesting.