This is a beautiful little Japanese tea cup that we have in the store right now.
At first glance, that's all it appears to be, is a beautiful little tea cup,
but sometimes, looks can be deceiving!
If you finish your tea, and glance into the bottom of your now empty cup, you will notice that the bottom surface of the cup is uneven. Nothing too exciting, really.
Then you may think, "Hey, that looks a little like a picture. A face, maybe?"
And when you pick it up to give it a closer inspection, and the light hits the bottom of the cup, you see it! A very detailed picture etched in the porcelain at the bottom of the cup.
So, it turns out, what we really have here is a beautiful little Japanese tea cup with a LITHOPHANE in the bottom.
The word "lithophane" is said to have Greek origins, meaning "Light in stone" or "to appear in stone".
A lithophane starts out as a sheet of beeswax, then a picture is carved into the beeswax, then that sheet of wax is used to make a plaster of Paris mold, and finally Porcelain is poured into the mold and then "fired".
Where the porcelain is thinnest, more light shows through, thus allowing the artist to create a picture by thinner and thicker sections of porcelain creating a "three-dimensional like" picture, or lithophane.
I have read that the older lithophanes would start with the image in wax, then the artist would back-light the image and carve it on glass. Their work tables would be beneath a window, sometimes with a mirror underneath to bounce light up on the backside of the lithophane.
Sounds like tedious work, doesn't it?
Beautiful work though!
Lithophanes change in appearance, depending on the light source that you hold them up to.
A lithopane picture being lit by a window, would change throughout the day, as the light changed.
Where did lithophanes originally come from? Well, that seems to be a subject with differing opinions. Some say they began in the "Tang Dynasty" where people said there were "bowls as thin as paper with secret decorations in them".
That sounds very mysterious, doesn't it?
"The inspiration for the Japanese "geisha girl" lithophane mark seems more than likely to have come to Japan during their early contacts with the West around the turn of the 19th century.
All kinds of decorative pieces, probably mostly lanterns were made in this technique in Europe, with its popularity reaching its peak in the 1870's after which point they gradually went out of fashion."
I guess this is just one more lesson of "Don't judge a book by its cover" or "appearances can be deceiving".
In this case, the moral of the story would be,
even a tea cup can have a secret.
-The GA Gang