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The crane is one of the most important symbols of longevity in many Asian countries. When it is depicted in combination with other symbols, it takes on an additional, slightly different meaning, which is often deeper than the original one. This majestic bird with its beautiful body and feathers has become one of the most important symbols of the culture of Japan, as the Japanese are a people who observe the surrounding nature carefully and draw a lot of inspiration from nature.

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These two small vases are of the same shape: on a low and dent base, there is a lengthened ovoid belly with arms evolving into a rather short and thin neck ending with a goblet spout. The ring-shaped base and the spout are decorated with a ferrule ornament made of copper that bears traces of silver-plating (?)[1].
The vases are decorated with cloisonné enamel on metal, with the use of silver wire (?). The decoration depicts cranes in flight, white with grey and red elements, placed against a dark blue background. The crane motifs appear on the bodies of both vases in a continuous style. At the rim of the spout and right above the base, a border of round red motifs can be seen. Underneath the base, one can see a sign resembling the yo [ヨ] syllable in the Japanese katakana form.
Cloisonné enamel (Japanese: shippō, literally meaning seven precious stones”) is a decorative technique which has been used worldwide, in various cultures and during various periods. Most often it has been used to decorate metal ware. Thin wires or metal straps are attached to the basic structure of an object, according to a particular design. Small compartments are created with these metal straps or wires and are then filled with enamel or a mass of glass powder and then kilned. Finally, the surface is smoothed and polished until the desired sheen is achieved.
Up to the 17th century, this method was mainly used in Japan to decorate architectural details e.g. handles of sliding doors, as well as to ornament elements of swords, brush containers and water dispensers used for thinning ink. Later, cloisonné enamel was used to decorate various everyday articles such as vases, bowls, trays, caskets, censers, pipes and buckles. The technique developed rapidly, and, at the end of the 19th century, articles decorated using this method were exported to the West in large quantities. The pair of vases that can be seen in the Manggha Museum, were created at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and are an example of the latter category of articles.
The crane is one of the most important symbols of longevity in many Asian countries. When it is depicted in combination with other symbols, it takes on an additional, slightly different meaning, which is often deeper than the original one. This majestic bird with its beautiful body and feathers has become one of the most important symbols of the culture of Japan, as the Japanese are a people who observe the surrounding nature carefully and draw a lot of inspiration from nature. For centuries, delightful sequences of elegant moves and sounds produced by cranes (thought to be a mating dance, as well as a manner of communication between a male and female) have captured the attention of people observing them.
Among the many crane species that can be found in the world, in Japan one of the rarest can be found – Grus japonensis (Latin). In the Polish language, this bird is called a Mandarin crane, but in other European languages, including English, the name of this bird stems from its look. In English, it is called a red crowned crane (in Chinese and Japanese – 丹頂鶴 or タンチョウヅル, tanchōzuru). The name refers to a red patch of skin that can be seen on the top of this bird’s head. During the mating season, this red colour becomes even deeper and vivid. In terms of size, Grus japonensis is the second largest wild crane in the world. Except for its black tail, a full-grown specimen is feathered in white. In addition, its cheeks, pharynx and the neck of a male are black, and of the female – pearl grey. Red crowned cranes spend spring and summer in Siberia and sometimes in north eastern Mongolia. Before winter, they migrate to Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan and other countries of Eastern Asia. In Japan, on Hokkaido Island, cranes can be found living in marshes, rice paddies and other boggy terrains and these do not change their place of living.
In the whole of Eastern Asia, the crane is regarded as a holy bird symbolising marital love, fidelity, and happiness (which is a reflection of these animals' monogamous behaviour), as well as those qualities of nobleness and longevity. Although it is generally believed to be able to live for thousands of years, it actually lives no more than 30 (twice as long when it is bred).
The crane has been a frequent topic of poems, legends, stories and proverbs. A Japanese phrase tsuru no hito koe [鶴の一声 or つるのひとこえ − literally a crane's word] means a definitive opinion of a person regarded as an authority, an opinion not to be doubted.
Depictions of cranes have been present in art as well. Inspired by the birds' beautiful shape, many artists have chosen cranes as a graceful theme of their paintings. They were commonly used as motifs in embroidery, paintings or dyed pieces, in decorating kimonos, wedding kimonos in particular, as well as in the ornamentation of porcelain, bronze and lacquer articles.
To this day, the appearance of this rare bird, so valued by the Japanese, is the most frequently met symbol in Japan, present in many places and situations. Although such situations could be enumerated ad infinitum, just a few are sufficient. Striking in its form, a motif of a crane inscribed in a circle resembling a family emblem commonly used in the previous periods, has become the logo of Japan Airlines. An image depicting a pair of cranes has been placed on the 1000 yen banknote. Origami cranes made of colourful paper are still joined in long chains in order to wish the person who receives them the best of luck.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Martini (The Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology), editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved


[1] The object was made using the technique of cloisonné enamel put on metal with silver (?) wire. The ferrule ornamentation of the base and spout was made from copper bearing traces of silver-plating (?). Doubts arising with respect to these materials result from the fact that the objects look like they were made of silver or bear traces of silvering, but it must be noted that Asian metals differ in composition from those European ones, and they change their colour under the influence of weather conditions. Therefore, due to the absence of a detailed examination of the alloy, it is impossible to confirm those facts conclusively.

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Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński. Creating a collection

Feliks Jasieński collected art for thirty years of his life. The collection numbered about 15,000 items and included paintings and graphics from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a set of Asian art objects, carpets, kilims, furniture and arts and crafts, as well as a library. The unique collection became a testimony to the time of its creator, who initially collected works in his apartment, and then, on 11 March 1920, donated them to the city of Cracow....

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Feliks Jasieński collected art for thirty years of his life. The collection numbered about 15,000 items and included paintings and graphics from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a set of Asian art objects, carpets, kilims, furniture and arts and crafts, as well as a library. The unique collection became a testimony to the time of its creator, who initially collected works in his apartment, and then, on 11 March 1920, donated them to the city of Cracow.

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Who was the man whose collection inspires so much admiration? An anthropologist, cultural scientist, he was also interested in art, various aspects of civilization. He came from a landowning family. He received a very thorough education: in Dorpat, Berlin and Paris. He pursued various fields of study: economics, philosophy, literature, art history and music. Above all, however, he was an enthusiast and collector who consistently gathered a coherent collection of works. His pseudonym Manggha came from the collection of woodcuts by a Japanese artist Katsushiki Hokusai.
Thanks to Jasieński’s involvement, he managed to save the painting Szał / Frenzy by Podkowiński , which had been cut up by the author. Jasieński carefully restored the canvas and hung it on the wall of his apartment in Cracow, as the most valuable object in his collection. He started the collection with the works of his contemporaries. The most outstanding artists of his time made an attempt at portraying him: Boznańska, Wyczółkowski, Malczewski, and Laszczka. His private acquisitions transformed into a museum collection. Would anyone be willing to donate their private collection of contemporary art to a museum nowadays?

Elaborated by: Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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Two small vases ornamented with cranes in flight, placed against a dark blue background

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