Zhou Dynasty Glass and Silicate Jewelry
Since I began studying the faience, glass and other silicate ornaments of the Zhou Dynasty in 1975, this field has undergone a sharp dichotomy. While previously mostly foreign scientists or Chinese outside of China researched their chemical makeup, age and stylistics, in the past decades Chinese themselves have begun to intensively study their composition, through sophisticated non-destructive techniques like XRF and Raman spectroscopy, but with little attention to their typology, chronology or how they were made or used, despite the enormous increase in number of excavated sites bearing such beads (Gan 2009; Kwan 2001, 2013; Lankton and Dussubieux 2006, 2013; Li et al., 2015; Liu 1975, 1991, 2005, 2013; Yang et al., 2013; Zhu 2013). Now regarded as important cultural relics, beads of the Zhou/Han times were widely sold since at least the 1990s on the world antiquities markets, often sourced by looting, and which are still available (Murphy 1995; Liu 1996-1997).
Faience, composite silicates and glass came late to China, lagging behind the Near East; faience about 1000 B.C. and composite silicates, frit and glass in the Spring and Autumn/Warring States (W.S.) periods of the Zhou dynasty. By then, bronze and stone industries were well established, with the former using sophisticated piece-mold and core-casting, while the latter employed similarly advanced lapidary technology. Even in the 1970s, I realized that these early Chinese glassworkers had adapted some of these same techniques for fabricating their glass ornaments, as seen in mold-cast, press-molded and lapidary-finished Zhou and Han glass artifacts. My own research on composite beads also implicates the role of early ceramics.
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Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His new book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. In this issue he writes about the extraordinary crafting of Zhou Dynasty/Warring States faience, glass and other silicate ornaments, as well as their complexity.