Tian-tsui

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Antique Tian-tsui (Kingfisher feather) hair pins. 19th century. Tian-tsui (kingfisher feather) hair pins.jpg
Antique Tian-tsui (Kingfisher feather) hair pins. 19th century.
Chinese Qing kingfisher feather tiara, circa 1851-1861AD Chinese kingfisher tiara.jpg
Chinese Qing kingfisher feather tiara, circa 1851-1861AD

Tian-tsui (traditional: 點翠, simplified: 点翠, pinyin: diǎncuì, "dotting with kingfishers") is a style of Chinese art featuring kingfisher feathers. For 2,000 years, the Chinese have been using the iridescent blue feathers of kingfisher birds as an inlay for fine art objects and adornment, from hairpins, headdresses, and fans to panels and screens. While Western art collectors have focused on other areas of Chinese art including porcelain, lacquer ware, sculpture, cloisonné, silk and paintings, kingfisher art is relatively unknown outside of China.

Kingfisher family of birds

Kingfishers or Alcedinidae are a family of small to medium-sized, brightly colored birds in the order Coraciiformes. They have a cosmopolitan distribution, with most species found in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The family contains 114 species and is divided into three subfamilies and 19 genera. All kingfishers have large heads, long, sharp, pointed bills, short legs, and stubby tails. Most species have bright plumage with only small differences between the sexes. Most species are tropical in distribution, and a slight majority are found only in forests. They consume a wide range of prey usually caught by swooping down from a perch. While kingfishers are usually thought to live near rivers and eat fish, many species live away from water and eat small invertebrates. Like other members of their order, they nest in cavities, usually tunnels dug into the natural or artificial banks in the ground. Some kingfishers nest in arboreal termite nests. A few species, principally insular forms, are threatened with extinction. In Britain, the word "kingfisher" normally refers to the common kingfisher.

Porcelain ceramic material

Porcelain is a ceramic material made by heating materials, generally including kaolin, in a kiln to temperatures between 1,200 and 1,400 °C. The toughness, strength, and translucence of porcelain, relative to other types of pottery, arises mainly from vitrification and the formation of the mineral mullite within the body at these high temperatures. Though definitions vary, porcelain can be divided into three main categories: hard-paste, soft-paste and bone china. The category that an object belongs to depends on the composition of the paste used to make the body of the porcelain object and the firing conditions.

Lacquer liquid, powder coating material which is applied thinly to objects

The term lacquer is used for a number of hard and potentially shiny finishes applied to materials such as wood. These fall into a number of very different groups.

Kingfisher feathers are painstakingly cut and glued onto gilt silver. The effect is like cloisonné, but no enamel was able to rival the electric blue color. Blue is the traditional favorite color in China.

As with most iridescent, electrifying colors in animals such as morpho butterfly wings, the intense color in bird feathers comes not from pigments in the feather itself, but from the way light is bent and reflected back out, much like a prism breaks white light into its spectrum of rainbow colors. These microscopic structures in feathers are called photonic crystals.

The most expensive, commissioned pieces used a species of kingfisher from Cambodia. So great was the export to sate Chinese demand, the trade of feathers may have been a major contributor to the wealth of the Khmer Empire, and used to help fund the construction of the magnificent temples near Siem Reap, Cambodia including Angkor Wat. The finest pieces of kingfisher art were reserved for royalty or high-ranking Chinese government official (called a "mandarin (bureaucrat)"). The usage of kingfisher feathers resulted in the mass slaughter of many kingfisher species.

Cambodia Southeast Asian sovereign state

Cambodia, officially the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is 181,035 square kilometres in area, bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.

Khmer Empire Empire extending over large parts of Southeast Asia

The Khmer Empire, officially the Angkor Empire, the predecessor state to modern Cambodia, was a Hindu-Buddhist empire in Southeast Asia. The empire, which grew out of the former kingdoms of Funan and Chenla, at times ruled over and/or vassalised most of mainland Southeast Asia and parts of Southern China, stretching from the tip of the Indochinese Peninsula northward to modern Yunnan province, China, and from Vietnam westward to Myanmar.

Siem Reap City in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia

Siem Reap is the capital city of Siem Reap Province in northwestern Cambodia. It is a popular resort town and a gateway to the Angkor region.

Kingfisher art as a high art form came to an end during the Chinese Revolution in the 1940s.

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Yellow color

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Feather body-covering structure of birds

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Silkie chinese chicken breed

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Black-capped kingfisher tree kingfisher

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Eared quetzal species of bird

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Blyths kingfisher species of bird

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Dinosaur coloration

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Structural coloration Colour in living creatures caused by interference effects

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References

Beverley Jackson is an American writer on Chinese culture and fashion As well as international travel, polo and style. Her published works cover life in 1920s and 1930s. A collector of dolls she published Dolls of Spain 2017 Create Space. A freelance writer her articles have been published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,Paris Vogue, London Vogue, US Vogue, Time Magazine. As a lecturer she has lectured around the world including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Museum of Art Shanghai, Civilization Museum Singapore, as well as universities and American museums. Was a featured speaker at the Shanghai International Writers Conference 2006. Was curator of Chinese textiles at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum for 20 years. Has been a collector of Chinese imperial robes since 1975. Currently she is weaving pine needle baskets exhibited at Casa Gallery and her collages have had three major exhibitions in Santa Barbara galleries.and now writes a weekly column for The Voice.