Saturday, July 10, 2010

Geisha in a cup

Have you seen a Geisha in a cup ? Literally staring out at you from the bottom of the tea cup as you savour the last drop of your fragrant tea. If you do, please don't get spooked and drop the tea cup.
These images are called lithophanes and it originated from a Greek word meaning "light in stone", or to "appear in stone". Lithophanes are porcelain castings which at first look appear to be nothing more than uneven surfaces forming a vague picture. But if you hold a lithophane to the light, you will be amazed by the three dimensional picture which appears with incredible depth, detail and beauty. Some historians have argued that lithophanes were developed by the Europeans while some say they date back all the way to the Chinese Tang dynasty. In Japan, lithophanes feature Geisha girls and are known as dragonware. Many were made right after WW2 in the 50's and early 60's and were popularly used for trading with the GIs stationed in the US bases.

I bought a set of these "dragonware" from a second hand dealer except mine came without dragons on the exterior. Instead it features the scenery of a Japanese village with pagodas and a view of Mount Fuji. It was almost Chinoiserie in style.
But what is striking and fascinating is the lithophane of the Geisha girl at the base of the cup, smiling most demurely. Collector's forums actually highlight the range of geisha girls in dragonware from the most rare to the most common. Apparently, the most rare ones that command ever increasing prices are that of nude Geisha girls. No wonder they were popular with the GIs.

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