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A page from “Winter Landscapes and Flowers” (album ca. 1770, Qian Weicheng) ink on silk

Here is a lovely little winter landscape from Qing Dynasty master landscape painter Qian Weicheng (錢維城). Qian was a proponent of the orthodox painting style, and, indeed, we can see that his simple, elegant calligraphic lines emulate the techniques of the Song and Ming artists who preceded him. Although he was perhaps not a master of bravura ink-wash realism to the unearthly degree of Fan Kuan or Guo Xi, Qian brings his own 18th century virtues to the art, and there is a delightful & unaffected simplicity to his work which captures the austere beauty of winter’s bare rocks, leafless trees, and frozen mud. In this little painting, flocks of geese glide through the overcast sky above a branching river which is swollen with melt water. The simplicity of the countryside must have been a dramatic contrast with the opulent splendor of court life in 1774 when this image was dated and inscribed. Of course Qian himself died in 1772, so the inscription and the date were added posthumously by Qian’s greatest fan, the Qianlong Emperor himself!

Qian Weicheng painted over 275 paintings during his time at court and he rose up through the imperial bureaucratic ranks to the exalted position of second-in-command of the Imperial Board of Works. Perhaps you are wondering how it is that Qian came to the capital from his native Jiansu to begin with. Any discussion of dynastic China includes mention of the famous, formidable imperial civil service exams, the great standardized test which was at the center of imperial China’s administrative system. In 1745, Qian came in first place on the exam, an academic feat which brought him to imperial attention and guaranteed his success as a mandarin and as a painter. This path to artistic greatness (acing a standardized test about Confucian principles!) brings up a variety of questions about meritocracy, politics, and aesthetics which we are still wrestling with!

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I have a confession to make: I have always though the classical Russian aesthetic of teardrops, ogee shapes, onion domes, and filigree was matchlessly beautiful.  If I had the money to commission a manor house, people would probably think it was a Russian orthodox church or Putin’s dacha because of all of the onion domes, candy-colored towers, and gingerbread fretwork. Unfortunately, such eastern majesty is a bit outside of my budget until we sell a few more flounder artworks, and so for now I must content myself with a seasonal gallery post of Christmastime Russian crowns and headdresses.

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Fortunately, crown-style headdresses are so much a part of Russian culture that there are all sorts of beautiful examples which fit the season perfectly. The high ornate headdresses miter-like traditional headdresses for women (kokoshniks/povyazkas depending on whether women are respectively wed or unwed).  There are numerous regional variants which are sadly beyond me (has anyone noticed has enormous Russia is?) however this article isn’t really about actual headdresses or history…or really about anything.  It is just a Christmas picture gallery.  So enjoy these amazing Russian Christmas hats.

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Of course, real crown aficianados are probably cursing me now for not really including any real crowns.  I have no intention of doing so (we will explore the crowns of the Romanovs at some other point) however I will include some of the astonishing headdresses of Russian patriarchs.  These archbishop’s caps look like they came from the Byzantine empire—and in a cultural sense, I suppose they did.  They aren’t actually hats for kings and princes, but they are hats for princes of the Orthodox church, and just look how magnificent they are!

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All of this winter headwear reminds me that we are quickly coming up on Christmas and the end of the year.  Prepare yourself for the some Ferrebeekeeper winter’s fun and Happy holidays (sorry I already missed Hanukkah).

I better wrap up before you realize I am pointing these things out because I think they are pretty but I have no real understanding about this at all.  I will have to see if I can find a real Russian expert to explain some of the finer points of exquisite headdresses.

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Diadem with Deesis (Unknown Goldsmith & artist, Kiev, 12th century AD, Gold with cloisonné enamel)

Diadem with Deesis (Unknown Goldsmith & artist, Kiev, 12th century AD, Gold with cloisonné enamel)

A diadem is a headband made of precious metal (frequently ornamented with jewels or designs) which betokens royal sovereignty.  Diadems trace their origins deep into antiquity—the form probably originating in Mycenae and Persia.  The diadem soon became associated with classical Greece culture and thus the concept survived for a long, long time.  Here is a Byzantine-era diadem discovered in Kiev during an archeological excavation in 1889.  It is composed of gold plaques with enamel paintings.  The central three plaques show the Virgin and St. John the Baptist supplicating Christ on behalf of humankind.  Around them are the archangels Michael and Gabriel as well as the apostles Peter and Paul.  According to the Louvre website concerning Russian sacred art, “The presence of Cyrillic letters would seem to confirm the diadem’s attribution to a workshop in the principality of Kiev, home to both Greek and Russian goldsmiths.”  Byzantine cultural and political influence reached deep into central Europe during the 12th century when this regal headdress was manufactured: it is easy to see the piece as a bridge between the Eastern Roman empire and the burgeoning Greek-Orthodox kingdoms and principalities of Russia, Kiev, and the Ukraine.

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