|20 January 1999|
Chinese Art from the T.T. Tsui Collection in the National Gallery of Australia
4 February 4 April 1999
LIFE IN THE EMPERORS TOMB offers a spectacular panorama of Chinese culture
spanning seventeen centuries of this ancient civilisation. Highlights of an extensive collection of ceramics and sculpture from the National Gallery of Australia will be on view exclusively at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery from 4 February.
"ancient works of art are the most persuasive and durable evidence of the cultural traditions of the people".(Dr. T.T. Tsui)
It is truly remarkable that vulnerable objects of such antiquity have survived the ages to evoke the atmosphere of ancient China in the present. The objects on show in this unique exhibition vary considerably in style, form and size, from a Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) pottery jar half a metre in height to a lifelike earthenware camel from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). These ancient and precious pieces all speak of Chinas long history and include pottery figurines, clay and ceramic animals, ritual vessels, funerary urns and guardian figures.
"The rituals associated with the burial and worship of ancestors have characterised much of Chinas cultural history."
Dr Tsuis collection represents two decades of research and acquisition, and he has subsequently supported major museums worldwide. His philosophy is that these ancient works of art are of importance not only for their intrinsic aesthetic qualities, but for their value in helping people of other cultures to better understand the Chinese heritage.
Thanks to the advanced preparation and conservation of the art objects in this collection, Christchurch is fortunate to be able to see these works which form the basis of a show scheduled to tour Australia at a later date this year. For their continuing support, the Gallery would like to thank the ASIA 2000 Foundation of New Zealand (promoters of Asian culture in the community). This exhibition is also supported by the Christchurch Casino, and is timed to support the national Festival of Asia (19-29 March).
This is an exhibition which will undoubtedly appeal to those with a Chinese heritage, but will be equally enjoyed by anyone with an interest in art and ancient cultures.
LIFE IN THE EMPERORS TOMB opens at the McDougall on 4 February and runs until 4 April, 1999 and a public programme will be presented in support of the exhibition. The Robert McDougall Art Gallery, located in the Botanic Gardens, is the countrys most visited public art gallery featuring regularly changing exhibitions of international and New Zealand historical and contemporary art. The Gallery is open daily (except Christmas Day) 10am 5.30pm.
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ACCOMPANYING PUBLIC PROGRAMMES FOR FEBRUARY/MARCH
At the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. Free admission to all events.
Video Programme 11am, Sunday 7 February
The buried army of Qin Shihuang
Lecture 11am, Sunday 14 February
Professor Bill Willmot will speak on
Ancient Chinese Cultures
Chinese painting demonstration 2pm, Sunday 21 February
Traditional Chinese painting techniques demonstrated by Wang Lan and Xiong Boxi
LIFE IN THE EMPERORS TOMB FACT SHEET
Some the earliest evidence of civilisation in China dates from the Neolithic period (c. 8000-2000 BC).
Chinese funerary wares first captured the imagination of the West when the tomb of the powerful Qin emperor, Qin Shihuang, was discovered in 1974 near Xian. Built around 205 BC, the tomb was crammed with thousands of life-sized terracotta sculptures of the Emperors army and retinue.
By the time of the Shang dynasty (c. 1600-1000 BC) it is apparent that there were well-ordered rituals associated with burial and that beliefs in the power of gods and spirits played an important role in Shang culture.
During subsequent dynasties burial rituals followed similar patterns until the time of the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius (551-479 BC).
Since the earliest times, creation myths have existed and folk heroes and heroines abound as do stories of extraordinary mythical creatures and the power of the spirit world.
LIFE IN THE EMPERORS TOMB runs at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery from 4 February 4 April, 1999.
All objects included in the exhibition are from the National Gallery of Australia Collection.
The exhibition objects were generously gifted to the National Gallery of Australia Collection by Dr. T.T. Tsui LLD, JP.
The National Gallery of Australia has organised the exhibition, which will tour Australia later in 1999.
The exhibition includes a range of objects spanning the Neolithic period (c.6500 2000 BC) to the Qing dynasty (1644 1912 AD).
The Robert McDougall Art Gallery would like to thank the sponsors of this exhibition the Asia 2000 Foundation of New Zealand and the Christchurch Casino.
The exhibition is scheduled to coincide with the National Festival of Asia, 19-29 March, 1999.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE EXHIBITION
(extracts from the exhibition catalogue)
The rituals associated with the burial and worship of ancestors have characterised much of Chinas cultural history.
Some of the earliest evidence of civilisation in China dates from the Neolithic period (c.6500 2000 BC). The excavation of large burial sites reveal that, even then, death was already accompanied by some ritual processes. Buried in pits, the deceased were found with food containers and other possessions, possibly thought to assist the smooth passage of the dead to the next world. Two funerary vessels from this time are in the exhibition and demonstrate the bold geometric style of this period.
By the time of the Shang dynasty (c.1600 c.1000 BC) there were well- ordered rituals associated with burial, and belief in the power of gods and spirits played an important role in Shang culture. Excavations of burial chambers, which consisted of large underground rooms, have uncovered a wealth of funerary objects including bronze vessels, jade ornaments and evidence of human sacrifice often on a large scale.
During subsequent dynasties burial rituals followed similar patterns until the time of the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius (551-479 BC) whose teachings were to have a fundamental influence on all future Chinese religious and philosophical beliefs.
During the Han period (206 BC 220 BC) regular trade with other areas such as the Middle East and Central Asia, and the practices of these cultures were gradually adopted in China. Tombs of noblemen were decorated with ceramic miniatures of their houses, servants and animals as testament to the rank or social standing of the deceased.
The unusually large Saddled Horse from the exhibition is an example of this, as is the expressive Reclining Dog. Funerary wares from this period provide important information about the nature of daily life.
Although united again by the short-lived Sui dynasty (581-618), it was during the ensuing Tang dynasty (618 907 AD) that the imperial power of China was restored. This was a period of great cultural flowering for China. The religions of Daoism and Buddhism grew in support, and tomb imagery of this period reflected these new influences. Tomb entrances were guarded by Buddhist lokapalas (warrior-like guardians from the spirit world) and Daoist figures of mythical beasts. Lokapala Guardian figure can be seen trampling a demon or dwarf and is a symbol of the defeat of evil.
Artistically and intellectually, the Ming dynasty (1368 1644 AD) was a period of renaissance in China. Art drew heavily on the past, and both painters and potters imitated favoured styles from former dynasties. Tombs at this time were large above-ground structures, with avenues lined with stone sculptures of officials and animal figures leading to them.
The Qing dynasty (1644 1912 AD) was to be Chinas last, and was a conservative time which focused artistically on refining techniques, but was lacking in the spontaneity and originality of earlier periods. Attitudes to funerary wares were changing and tomb burials never reached their previous magnitude again.
This brief chronology reveals that creation myths have existed since earliest times. Folk heroes and heroines abound, as do stories of extraordinary mythical creatures and the power of the spirit world.
All of these beliefs have become completely entwined with Confucian ideology and Buddhist and Daoist practices, resulting in an extremely complex religious system.
Through the discovery of the tombs of past rulers and their entourages, we can reconstruct a picture of history. LIFE IN THE EMPERORS TOMB presents an array of objects from these time-periods to provide an insight into Chinas long and fascinating past.