This exhibition showcases three themes found among works of art in the museum’s permanent collection: archaeological finds mainly from ancient tombs, Buddhist sculptures from temples, and works of art reflecting the aesthetic tastes of scholars and the imperial courts of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
Archaeology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has revealed a broad assortment of both prehistoric and historical implements and ornaments originating from sites throughout China. These works, excavated from tombs and architectural ruins, display a taste for abstract representation, expressing belief in protection by ancestors, forces of nature, and mythical creatures. The location of these finds links them to notions of an afterlife.
For more than two thousand years, Buddhism produced numerous images for use by devotees in worship and practice. These images were originally placed in public temples and family shrines. Images of the main deities in Buddhism, such as Buddhas (enlightened ones) and Bodhisattvas (beings who have reached enlightenment, but who elect to stay on earth to help others) were objects of devotion, created to inspire others on their journey to Buddhist paradises. Composed of a diverse array of materials, such as stone, bronze, and ceramics, the figures rely not only on Indian prototypes, but were also adapted for indigenous Chinese tastes and cultural affinities.
The scholar class of civil servants, who reach their positions by national examinations, served the dynastic courts of China and administered the policies of the rulers across the land. Scholarly culture dominated Chinese society beginning in the tenth century, appreciated by not only scholarly circles, but also in the imperial houses and among the common people.
In the arts, painting and calligraphy were most representative of scholars’ tastes, desires and dreams. Ceramics, considered a major type of decorative art, developed new techniques and styles after the tenth century and during the Ming and Qing periods. Displayed in this exhibition, precious materials, including textiles, rhinoceros horn, lacquer, ivory, gold, silver, glass, crystal, cloisonné and stone, reveal scholarly and imperial taste. The decorations of these works of art express Chinese traditional beliefs and culture with spiritual, political, and social or religious significance.