, 19th century?
Rock crystal (quartz) with incised decoration; wood stand
10 7/8 x 9 5/8 inches (27.6 x 24.4 cm)
Gift of Major General and Mrs. William Crozier, 1944
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About This Crystal
This large crystal represents the moon delicately balancing on a
base of wispy clouds, among which hides a rabbit, his soft ears
lying gently on his head. More clouds drift across the face of the
moon, pointing to the left bottom corner of the base, where the
rabbit resides. A poem by Xie Zhuang (shee-eh jua-ang, 421–466)
is incised on the surface, setting to verse several Chinese myths and
stories about the moon. One tells of an ancient ruler who, parted
from his beloved, found solace in gazing at the moon, knowing
that she was doing the same. Another tells of the divine rabbit who
stole the elixir of immortality and fled to the moon, where he
mixes it daily.
The famous eighteenth-century calligrapher
, seal carver, and
painter Zhao Pingchong (gee-aw ping-chong) incised the poem
on the crystal moon. A hard stone, rock crystal is a transparent
form of the mineral quartz. Early Chinese writings refer to it as
"water essence" for its resemblance to ice, and ancient Chinese
recipes commonly used it as an ingredient in magical potions.
This association made the substance an ideal material for portraying
the imagery of the divine, elixir-pounding rabbit. The carver dated
this piece to 1795, the last year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong
(chee-en long), who was probably the original owner. Qianlong,
a successful military leader who presided over a huge expansion in
the territory controlled by the Qing (ching) dynasty, was a great
patron of the arts.
The Rabbit and the Moon
The rabbit and the moon are popular subjects in Chinese literature
and art. When seen from Earth, the craters and shadows on the full
moon are said to resemble a rabbit mixing a magic potion in a
bowl. (Americans sometimes say that the craters and shadows give
the appearance of the "Man in the Moon.") An old Buddhist legend tells of a kindly rabbit who threw his body into a fire, sacrificing
himself as food for the starving Buddha. Moved by the rabbit's
selfless gesture, Buddha rewarded him by pulling him out of the fire
and sending him to live on the moon. Forever after, the rabbit on
the moon pounds the elixir of immortality. The rabbit is also one of
the twelve Eastern zodiac (more commonly known as the Chinese
zodiac) animals. People born in the year of the rabbit are said to be
compassionate, sensitive, loving, protective, timid, and attractive.
The moon's many phases also feature prominently in Chinese art
and lore. Chinese people celebrate the August Moon Festival on
the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, in late summer/early
autumn, when the moon is said to be the most beautiful. Families
celebrate the end of the harvest season with a big feast prepared
with newly gathered crops, fruits, and vegetables. They also eat
round mooncakes made with a sweet bean paste filling and a
golden-brown flaky skin. Mooncakes symbolize family unity
and the season's abundance.
This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: China
, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.