More than a frill

The Chinese are in love with latticework, and in its designs we find another illustration of the complementary nature of the opposites. Recently in China, I was charmed with the many examples I found of latticework -- around doorways, in windows, and on fences. And I relished its use, almost universally, around the garden.

It is fascinating to conjecture that today, in China, 800 million people are rediscovering their gardens with their latticework ornamentation, rediscovering the ancient symbolisms of their views of "mountain-water," rediscovering the fact that the very vehicle for viewing, frequently latticework, also is symbolic.

Were I to take one feature from the accompanying picture which is to me of special intrigue, that feature would be the fence. I do not mean the fence of boards, which is immediately to the rear of the reclining woman. I mean, rather , the fence or balustrade that rides the right-hand corner of the painting.

This balustrade is distinguished by latticework in a certain geometric pattern which recurs throughout the arts of China. It is often called the "cloud and thunder" motif; and it is equally often referred to as the "swastika fret." We encounter it commonly in bronzes, carpets, jades, and porcelains. It is less familiarly encountered in the field of painting.

Not only is the design remarkably "modern" in its angularity, but its significance goes beyond design -- as indeed do all the arts of China -- to incorporate a symbolism. In Chinese art-iconography, the "cloud and thunder" motif, or the "swastika fret," symbolizes immortality.

But the tight arithmetic angularity of the balustrade design contains yet another symbolic association, and one of an even higher calling. Indeed, it is its unique organic tension -- the contrast of its closedness and its openness -- which lends it both its drama and its philosophic verity based on an embrace of the opposites.

It seems to me that the two symbolic attitudes of the design are not at all in conflict. They are, rather, ultimately compatible. What partakes more of "immortality" than the ancient concept of the yin and yang?

Chinese latticework occurs in any one of countless variations.It is always stylized and formal. Shapes can be square or round or a combination of the two. The square -- such as the one we are dealing with here -- takes its origin from the tsung,m or rectangular symbol for earth, whereas the round version has as its inspiration the pi,m or rotund symbol for heaven.

Today, Chinese latticework has gone beyond the range of Chinese art and Chinese adaptations. To my surprise, I stumbled on a typical example of it -- a window through which one viewed bamboo -- in a decorating shop in San Francisco's Jackson Square. It made me realize that Chinese latticework has come into the public domain, and is now available to beauty seekers on a global basis.

Indisputably, Chinese latticework is marvelously decorative. But it is more than that. It can decorate our hearts, as well as our homes, with its instant reminder of the dynamics of contrasts into which all of life resolves.

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