Somewhat absurdly, this it the third part of a part two, a continuing look at traditional Chinese timber framing details. We have so far looked at pavilions, models, and bridges, following up with a post yesterday showing a few examples of architectural carving. In today’s post, we crane our heads up to take in the marvelous sights to behold. Believe it or not, there are alternatives to ceilings of white plastered sheet rock.
Chinese Temple Ceilings.
One Chinese term for temple ceilings is藻井
井‘ of the floating 藻藻喿‘ (a depiction of chicks in a nest in a tree – the connotation is of activity happening above) plus an abbreviated form of water, ‘水‘ to the left. Water plus activity happening above gives the character ‘澡‘ which means float on the surface of the water. On top of that piece, an abbreviated form of ‘艸‘ referring to grass/plants, is added to give 藻, and that is how we arrive at the meaning of plants which float on the surface of the water. Neat!
There is even a Chinese knot named after this form – in English termed a plafond knot, the word ‘plafond’ being French for – can you guess? – ceiling:
Anyway, let’s take a look at some of these aquatic plant wells:
I find this one particularly stunning:
Baoguo Temple in southern China has some incredible ceilings:
Note the lobate posts as well:
A couple more examples:
A large circular hall with a richly decorated ceiling:
A variant on the aquatic plant well is the octagonal heavenly aquatic plant well (八角穹藻井) – notice the scale of the work and the small ‘button’ in the center:
That ‘button’ is actually richly detailed – here’s a closer look:
The center of most of these caisson ceilings feature a more or less flat panel decorated with carving or painting. A pair of dragons circling around chasing a pearl is a common motif, as seen above. This iconography and the theories regarding it is a fascinating area in itself – for more, check out a page in wikianswers (⇐ link). Also, an interesting discussion can be found here (⇐ link).
And one more:
Whew! My had is spinning. I hope you enjoyed the brief tour of Chinese timber frame delights and thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way. Will there be a part 4 of this series, I wonder?