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August 03, 2012

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Upstairs in the British Museum, way upstairs and hard to find, is the Percival David collection of a wide range of ceramics, many of which are pretty amazing. None so spectacular as this turquoise glaze, but arguably its peers. One piece of Guan ware from the Song Dynasty (say, 14th century or so) is the most beautiful human artifact I have ever seen. Jaw-dropping indeed if one likes such things. Regardless of that, the room is well worth the visit.

Now, as to hierarchy and different species, the Chinese made elegant carved wooden scroll-holding racks, so that the person who carried a message to a great lord could go into the empty room and leave the message there, not polluting the lord's presence by ever being in the same room with him. The messenger, of course, would not be some peasant but a member of some other lord's household

BTW, a hint for people who like to see fine things close up: When a big auction house is about to sell fabulous things, it's generally possible for anyone who looks respectable to walk into the preview and gawk at the stuff. What sort of fabulous things? Well, not a collection of Faberge eggs or the possessions of Jackie Kennedy, or too-popular things like that.

But once in London I wandered into an exhibit room at Sotheby's next to the rooms I meant to visit, and it was full of very expensive Renoirs and such.

But that's not the point. The end wall was nearly empty. In the center was something rather small, with informative small signs around it. I spent a few minutes there, with no crowd, in fact *no* other viewers, examining the newly authenticated Vermeer they were about to sell. It was sold the next week for millions. 16 million. Pounds.

Probably won't see that painting again close up.

Interesting stuff, but I'm not sure about this

such that people of different classes barely recognized each other as people

and drawing that conclusion from what is represented in Chinese art. This is a bit of a rambling comment, and I'm not well versed in Chinese art, but one of the main principles of Chinese art is to place man in nature and show a relationship between man an nature. This means that you aren't going to get many representations of groups of people and their social relations. I think it is only the Japanese, with ukiyo-e, which is fundamentally a metropolitan artform for the urban masses, do you see social relations and hierarchies protrayed.

As to recognizing people from other classes, two of the principal precepts in Confucianism are ren (仁), which is the notion of compassion towards others and shu (恕), which is tolerance/benevolence and is the reason people suggest that Confucius was the first person to state the Golden Rule. This is balanced by li(禮) which is often given as self restraint or decorum, i.e. minding your place

There are a number of lines from the Analects that emphasize the intrinsic value of all humans, and the problem I think westerners have is that it is hard to imagine a society that simultaneously emphasizes remaining in your class and argues for the intrinsic worth of individuals because our only context for arguing for intrinsic worth is to clearly couple it with social mobility.

This isn't as well argued a comment as I'd like, because your observation is from a social aspect of art criticism, which I have no grounding in, and my observation is from my (relatively reverential) understanding of Confucianism, but I hope it gets what I want to say across.

I think that every society has both to some degree: a philosophy or religion that tells people to value each other and people, lots of them, who do not value each other because it is not covenient for them to do so. Heck, look at the US where the so-called pro-life party tried to defund Medicaid!

AS soon as it becomes convenient (or is perceived as convenient)to dehumanize others, lots and lots of people wil do it.


In medieval Europe during the serf period serfs did look like a different species than the nobility. They were smaller for one thing. According to Will Durant Roman-born slaves looked like a different species than the patrician class not becuase of foreign paranetage but because of chronic malnutrition and overwork from an early age. The skeleton of a little girl slave in Pompeii showed that she had ridges fromed on her bones from over exerting her muscles from carrying weight too heavy for her developing frame.

I read a book about the Soong sisters years ago. One scene stays in my mind: one of the sisters wastravelling across the country side during that horrible famiine when the country was littered with beggars and corpses--and she didn't see them. The beggars and corpses did not register with her. She spoke to an American reporter about the condition of China and she just did not acknowledge the existance of over a million dead from starvation even thbough she ahd travelled through one of the worst hit regions. She was a Chiang Kai Shek (I know I butchered the spelling of that name) supporter and it was not covenient to notice mass starvation.

It's not convenient for Mitt Rmoney to notice that cutting income taxes for rich people does not result in job creation and does result either in deficts, increased taxes on the not-rich, or both.

The selfish, they will always be with us.

Porlock Jr:

In fact this turquoise vase is also in the Percival David collection, room 95. Is the object you're talking about this one, or something else?

Hoshit, one-on-one with a Vermeer. Yeah, that's worth putting on makeup for ...

Owen Tudor? It's not single-generation mobility, but it is upward. Or is he too high-class to count?

Also thinking of the Church as a method of social mobility. For example, Pope John X (exactly 1000 years prior to WW1)?

Royalty beginning as commoners:

Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte rose from a private in the French army to being a Marshall under Napoleon, and was elected successor to the king of Sweden by the Diet in 1810. He ascended to the throne in 1818 and reigned until 1844. His descendents reign to the present day.

It _did_ require a series of unusual events, but that was probably true of your Chinese emperor as well.

Supposedly, after Bernadotte died, they found a tattoo on his body that said MORT AUX ROIS! ('Death to kings!'). Much like most of life, if you want it too much, you probably won't get it....

Gustavus Vasa of Sweden is probably one of the greatest stories of social mobility in the 16th century. He was a son of a rather minor noble, rising to king of Sweden in 1523, reigning until to his death in 1555 and founding a dynasty that continued until 1654 (by some counts, until 1815 or to present).

Ericus Jönsson, later Ericus Dahlbergh is another rather interesting case, but from 17th century. The early-orphaned son of a peasant, he rose from a minor scribe to ranks of field marshal and count. (He got his early education at school for the reason of being a distant relative via female line to a noble family, but rest was of his own doing.)

I know of no European ruler who started any lower than petty nobility or bourgeois wealth, for the thousand years before World War I.

You're forgetting the popes. While many certainly came from noble families, some, like Gregory VII, who went toe to toe with the emperor, were from peasant families.

Beautiful. He was nicknamed "One Corner Ma" because of his style of starting in one corner and painting up on a horizontal plane.

We studied him in Art History Class in College.


It's simply not true that there were no European rulers who were from the lower classes. In fact, that's ludicrously ridiculous: a large number of the major cities of the time were independent republican city-states which were run by their citizens (some of which states explicitly banned nobles from participating in their politics). It's true that most of these city-states only allowed a limited portion of their inhabitants to rule, but that's a far cry from all rulers being nobility or wealthy. Many small businessmen or noted craftspeople had some levels of political power.

Today customs agents seized 20,000 pairs of fake Louboutin shoes going into LA. Its definitely a sumptuary law that our government doesn't want the poor to dress as good. They said they would now burn the knockoffs.

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