‘Horeur de vide’

The Chinese ‘Horeur de vide’ or horror of emptiness plays a strong part in their use of pattern. Patterns are used to break up surfaces within Chinese architecture for structures, screens, tiling, and ceilings as well as in their craft; textiles, iron ware, pottery and furniture. The patterns evoke fortune and luck, dispelling negatives. The objects they appear on go towards making an auspicious environment in the everyday. The craftsman’s work is seen as incomplete or unfinished if areas are left void of line or color.

Chinese Interior; Oil on Canvas by unknown Chinese Artist 19th Century Guangong Museum Collection
Canton Gardens; Oil on Canvas by unknown Chinese Artist 19th Century Guandong Museum Collection

They employ ‘Diaper’ or repeated geometric shapes to ensure that surfaces are not left empty. Originally ‘Diaper’ was the term that described the use of pattern in small repeated geometric shapes. Only later did it evolve to describe a patterned white cotton or linen piece of fabric. ‘Diaper’ can be repeat patterns of squares, circles, crosshatching or lozenges (diamonds) and are arranged within rows and borders or employed as panels.

Vessel with Triangular Cloud Pattern; White Pottery Shard with Carved Design; Food Vessel with Distorted Dragon Design, Sword with Lozenge Pattern; Vessel with Interlaced Dragon Design openwork; Vessel with Striations; Food Vessel with Interlaced Dragon and Scale Design; Square Steamer all from the Shanghai Museum Collection

The pattern forms have ancient origins with links to early animal and nature worship by ancient tribes.  A few examples include Cloud, Dragon, Wave and Thunder patterns. ‘Thunder-Patterns’ are repetitive and continuous and an example of the strong connection agricultural people had with life-giving rain. The symbol of thunder represented ‘the downpour that brought the heaven-sent gift of abundance’. The use of the ‘nipple’ too symbolizes the nourishing of man-kind.

  1. Carol Edson said:

    I have been looking for this design, Diaper, that I noticed on the white pottery piece, because its on an old vase I have. I’m trying to find the origin, date and history of it. Chinese Cloisonne Bronze is what I’ve been able to discover so far. If you have any other information, I’d love to hear from you. I could also send pictures. Thank you!

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