What's Happening in Asian Art...: Asian Art History

Object in focus

July 8, 2021

A Gold and Turquoise Belt Chinese Tang Dynasty 7th Century Length: 63cm Width: 5cm, courtesy of Susan Ollemans

A rare gold belt inset with turquoise.

Belt ornaments appeared in bronze or gold from around the 9th Century B. The majority of belt ornaments come from male tombs although a few have been found in female tombs re-enforcing the warrior-like nature of the nomadic women. With increased exposure to the northern nomads the Chinese began to develop their own design of the belt and belt hook. By the Tang Dynasty lavish belt decorations were given as marks of respect with Imperial edicts decreeing and regulating the number of plaques that could be worn according to rank and status. Jade was worn by the Emperor and down to third –ranked officers. Gold, silver, bronze and iron inset with hard stones were regulated to the lower ranks. By the Ming Dynasty many of these belts had lost a functional use and had become only a symbol of rank.

For more information, go to: https://www.ollemans.com/

Thomas Murray at the San Francisco Tribal and Textile Art Virtual Show 2021

February 25, 2021

Hasapi Lute top figure, Batak, Sumatra

February 24-28, 2021

Explore the exotic, colorful, magical, mystical work of Tribal and Ethnographic Art. Enjoy and acquire objects created by indigenous cultures over millennia. More than 60 top-tier galleries and dealers from the US and around the globe showing remarkable stone and wood carvings, paintings, jewelry, and pottery and the finest ancient and contemporary textiles and rugs for North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, India, Oceania, and the Americas.

Friday, February 26, 2021, Thomas Murray will speak on the Art of Two, the book he wrote in 2015 on the theme of Mother and Child. Tom Murray is an independent researcher, author, collector, lecturer, and private dealer of Asian and Tribal art with an emphasis on Indonesian sculpture and textiles, as well as animistic art from other varied cultures.

For more information, visit https://www.virtualtribalandtextileartshows.com.


Party Like an OX Star! Happy Chinese Lunar New Year!

February 12, 2021

Four bronze long-horned bulls and a horse, Dian kingdom, Yunnan, Western Han dynasty, 3rd-1st century B.C. Lengths: 17.8 to 24.8 cm. (7 to 9 3/4 in.), courtesy of Kaikodo

Looking forward to a less eventful year and wishing you a happy, healthy, safe and prosperous New Year of the Ox!

The Chinese zodiac is a 12-year cycle where each year is represented by an animal, and 2021 is the year of the dependable Ox. According to a myth about how the order of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac calendar was established, the ox came in second in a race to reach the emperor’s party. He had been the frontrunner, but just before the finish line, the rat asked him for a ride across the river and then got off his back and claimed first place. A very trustworthy beast of burden and indispensable in an agricultural society, the ox has always been much valued in Asia. Known for being hardworking and reliable, oxen have frequently been portrayed in Chinese and Japanese works of art.

In addition, each year of the Chinese calendar is associated with one of the ten elements, such as fire, water, air. 2021 is the Metal Ox year so this group of four bronze long-horned bulls and a horse is most fitting. From the Dian kingdom in Yunnan and dating to the Western Han dynasty (3rd-1st century BC), these pieces attest to the ox’s long historical importance in Chinese life.

The approach is more fanciful in a Japanese print by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), Fifty-three Stations Along the Tokaido: View of Kanbara, from a bijin landscape series, in which a beautiful young woman is shown riding an ox in a snowbound landscape.

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) 1786-1865, Fifty-three Stations Along the Tokaido: View of Kanbara, signed Kochoro Kunisada ga, ca. 1838, chuban tate-e 9 7/8 by 7 3/8 in., 25 by 18.7 cm, courtesy of Scholten Japanese Art

Oxen have been depicted in paintings, stone sculpture, wood, jade and other materials as well as in pottery and porcelain. A perennial favorite throughout these media is the image of a boy riding an ox or a water buffalo, and here is a classic porcelain example of that, a Chinese blanc de chine water dropper in the shape of a boy riding an ox, from the Kangxi period/ early 18th century.

Chinese blanc de chine water dropper in the shape of a boy riding an ox, Kangxi period/early 18th century, Height: 3 inches (7.5 cm) Length: 3 1/2 inches (9 cm), courtesy of Ralph M. Chait Galleries

It’s about time!

February 5, 2021

Maharaja Sarabhoji Accompanied by His Minister, Tanjore, Company Style, circa 1790, Opaque water-based pigments with raised gold on board, 23 1/2 x 17 1/4 in. (60 x 44 cm.), Kapoor Galleries

Given as a gift to Lady Henrietta Clive (1758-1830) in 1800 by the Maharaja Sarabhoji (r. 1798-1832).
Sophus Andreas Bergsøe (1838-1896), Aalborg circa 1880.
Thence by descent.

It seems incongruous to include an elaborate European ormolu clock in an Indian Tanjore Company Style painting of Maharaja Sarabhoji Accompanied by His Minister, circa 1790. The maharaja, depicted as a heavily bejeweled figure with an elaborate turban and side-whiskers, stands formally facing outward with the index finger of his left hand pointing downward towards his ceremonial sword, and a minister with pressed palms faces the maharaja awaiting instructions. They are framed on one side by a curtain with gold fringe and tassels and are flanked by two European-style gilt-legged tables. The clock is placed upon one of the tables. The European accoutrements of the room are inspired by European portraiture, and this portrait is painted in a style that developed in the mid-eighteenth century, which catered to the tastes of the British colonials. The raised gold is typical of Tanjore painting.

Maharaja Serfoji II of Tanjore (also known as ‘Sarabhoji,’ r. 1798-1832), the last ruler of the Maratha Bhonsle Dynasty of Tanjore, was installed by the British as the titular head of Thanjavur. He was the adopted son of Maharaja Thulajah. As a young man, he was entrusted to the care of a Danish missionary, Reverend Christian Freidrich Schwartz, who sent him to Madras for his formal education. He enjoyed an excellent relationship with the British after he acknowledged their administration of Tanjore and was then granted sovereignty over the lands surrounding the Fort of Thanjavur as well as a pension (see Archer, Rowell, and Skelton, Treasures from India: The Clive Collection at Powis Castle, London, 1987, p.124; and John Chu, Game of Thrones in an ‘Asiatic World’: Henrietta Clive and Anna Tonelli in British India, National Trust Historic Houses & Collections Annual, 2018, p. 40.).

Online video series at China Institute

January 25, 2021

Where does that exquisite De Gournay Chinese-inspired wallpaper originally come from? China, of course—dating back to the 1700s in the workshops of Suzhou. Join us as interiors expert and member of the British National Trust Emile de Bruijn takes us on a journey to examine a woodblock-printed wallpaper from 1750 (which survives in three magnificent British houses), that tells the story of the beginnings of China’s trade with the West, as well as the impact of Chinese design from the 18th century to today.

Emile de Bruijn is one of the world’s leading experts on Chinese Wallpaper. He worked in the Japanese and Chinese departments of the auctioneers Sotheby’s in London before joining the National Trust, where he is now a member of the central collections management team. Emile has lectured and published on many different aspects of chinoiserie in historic houses and gardens. He is the author of Chinese Wallpaper in Britain and Ireland (2017), and a co-author of the catalogue Chinese Wallpaper in National Trust Houses (2014).

Register: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ERP1RV9iRHChiOuBq02kEQ 

Asia Week New York Zooms in on the Allure of Indian Paintings on January 28 at 5pm EST

January 21, 2021

A party of hunters returning to camp, Leaf from the British Library-Chester Beatty Library Akbarnama, Mughal India, 1603-04
9 by 5 in., 22.9 by 12.7 cm., painting; Image courtesy Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch Ltd.

New York: Continuing its lively series of virtual panel discussions, Asia Week New York is delighted to present Tales in Connoisseurship: Appreciating Indian Painting with an all-star panel of specialists including Brendan Lynch, co-director of London-based Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch Ltd., Marika Sardar, PhD, Curator, The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, and collector Gursharan Sidhu, PhD. These renowned experts will reveal their personal journeys of connoisseurship within the rich and wonderful world of Indian paintings. The presentation will be held on Thursday, January 28 at 5:00 p.m. (EST), 2:00 p.m. (PST). To reserve, visit: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ksNoWmVSRzagAi5UYrouCg

Says moderator Anu Ghosh-Mazumdar, Senior Vice President & Head of the Indian & Southeast Asian Art Department at Sotheby’s: “Any collecting category requires three lynchpins to thrive and survive – the collector, the curator and the dealer. We are excited to host this panel which brings together these three key elements, showcasing the synergy of interest, curiosity, discipline, scholarship and commerce in forging connoisseurship.”

About the Experts:
Anu Ghosh-Mazumdar has been with Sotheby’s since 2003 and was appointed Head of the Sotheby’s Indian & Southeast Asian Art department in 2011. A specialist for both Classical as well as Modern Indian art, she plays a key role in securing major consignments for Sotheby’s sales of Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art and Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art held in Asia, Europe and the United States. Landmark sales of Indian and Himalayan art for which she recently provided her expertise include: Indian paintings from the Estate of Dr. Claus Virch (2015 & 2016), The Richard R. and Magdalena Ernst Collection of Himalayan Art (2018), and most recently an historic collection of Mughal and Ottoman textiles from the Estate of H. Peter Stern, co-founder of the Storm King Art Center (2020). Ms. Ghosh-Mazumdar has lectured widely on the South Asian art market at both private and public international forums.

Brendan Lynch is a London-based dealer in Indian and Islamic Art. He spent twenty years at Sotheby’s, working in London and New York, and left in 1997 as Director of the Islamic and Indian Art Department. In 1998 he set up, with former colleague Oliver Forge, an art consultancy dealing and acting as agents in Indian and Islamic Art and Art of the Ancient World. The company has exhibited Indian Court Paintings annually at Asia Week New York since 2009.

Gursharan S. Sidhu holds degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Madras) and Stanford University. After a long career in academia and the technology sector at Apple Inc. and Microsoft, he now focuses on his lifelong passion for the arts of India. Currently, Sidhu is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Seattle Art Museum, as well as on the Acquisitions Committee of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Board of Trustees of the Museum for Art and Photography (MAP), in Bengaluru. He served as co-chairman of the Board of the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington DC. He and his wife collect traditional and vernacular paintings from India and art from Mexico.

Marika Sardar is Curator at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. She previously worked at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her major exhibitions include: Interwoven Globe (2013), focusing on the worldwide textile trade from the 16th-18th century; Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1750 (2015), examining the artistic traditions of the Muslim sultanates of central India; and Epic Tales from Ancient India (2016), looking at narrative traditions and the illustration of texts from South Asia. Ms. Sardar, along with John Seyller and Audrey Truschke, has recently published the Mughal-era Persian-language manuscript of the Ramayana in the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art.

About Asia Week New York
The collaboration of top-tier international Asian art galleries, the six major auction houses, Bonhams, Christie’s, Doyle, Heritage Auctions, iGavel, and Sotheby’s, and numerous museums and Asian cultural institutions, Asia Week New York is a week-long celebration filled with a non-stop schedule of simultaneous gallery open houses, Asian art auctions as well as numerous museum exhibitions, lectures, and special events. Participants from Great Britain, India, Italy, Japan, and the United States unveil an extraordinary array of museum-quality treasures from China, India, the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, and Korea.

Asia Week New York Association, Inc. is a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade membership organization registered with the state of New York. For more information visit www.AsiaWeekNewYork.com @asiaweekny #asiaweekny

About Songtsam, Presenting Sponsor
Founded by Baima Duoji, in 2000, the Songtsam Group is the only collection of luxury Tibetan-style retreats found across the Tibetan Plateau that offers guests sophisticated elegance, refined design, modern amenities, and unobtrusive service in places of natural beauty and cultural interest. With his long-standing and strong interest in Chinese, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian art, Mr. Baima started collecting art long before he established his first hotel, Songtsam Lodge Shangri-La, which is located next to the famous Songzanlin Monastery in Shangri-La. Many of the properties across the Tibetan plateau are decorated with Mr. Baima’s personal collection, with each hotel acting as a private art museum. For more information, visit www.songtsam.com.

Zoom presentation of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

January 20, 2021

Chinese, Bottle and Stand, 1736–98, ceramic with gold filigree, turquoise, and lapis lazuli, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, bequest of Charlene Quitter Thompson.

Quest for Gold
Chinese Artifacts from Hepu to Houston
A presentation of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston via Zoom
Thursday, January 21 at 6:30 PM (Central Standard Time)

Join special guest, Dr. Sarah Laursen, the Alan J. Dworsky Associate Curator of Chinese Art, Harvard Art Museums, and the MFAH Asian art department for a scintillating conversation about exquisite gold artworks from ancient China and beyond. This program will share broad perspectives on gold’s craftsmanship and usage in the ancient world, as well as the history of collecting, studying, and displaying it in the West.

Before joining the Harvard Art Museums, Dr. Laursen curated Lost Luxuries: Ancient Chinese Gold (2020) at Middlebury College Museum of Art. Dr. Laursen has lectured extensively using new approaches to studying ancient gold and will share the latest insights from the field with the MFAH audience.

To attend this Zoom session click HERE at 6:30PM CST on January, 21st (https://zoom.us/j/99104530639)

Online video series at China Institute

January 19, 2021

Sancai (三彩), Chinese pottery with green, brown/amber, and off-white glaze, is a craft perfected during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD) – think of the iconic Tang Dynasty horse. But is it really Chinese, or did it come from Europe or Central Asia? Yale curator Denise Leidy will share her favorite Sancai pieces and talk about the “madly cosmopolitan” Tang Dynasty, which is often referred to as China’s Golden Age.

Denise Patry Leidy is one of the world’s leading curators of Asian art. She is the Ruth and Bruce Dayton Curator of Asian Art and head of the Department of Asian Art at Yale University. Previously, she served as the Brooke Russell Astor Curator of Chinese Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and as curator at the Asia Society and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Denise has curated exhibitions such as Global by Design: Chinese Ceramics from the R. Albuquerque Collection (2016), Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom (2013), Red and Black: Chinese Lacquer from the 13th to the 16th Century (2012), and Hidden Treasure of Afghanistan (2009). Her publications include How to Read Chinese Ceramics (2015), Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2010), and The Art of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its History and Meaning (2009).

To register: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Vb-aWr8VTj6mlbVux3aZEg

Asked and Answered: A Synopsis of Tales in Conservation: The Application of Science to Asian Art with answers to submitted questions (Part Three)

January 15, 2021

Korean gilt copper “medicine” Buddha, late 7th-early 8th century

We are pleased to share the third installment of additional material related to our recent webinar on art conservation which featured scholarly contributions from two leading Asian Art conservators, Leslie Gat, (Art Conservation Group) and John Twilley (Art Conservation Scientist), along with AWNY members Mary Ann Rogers (Kaikodo LLC), and Thomas Murray (Thomas Murray Asian and Tribal Art).

Part three begins with a summary from John Twilley, followed by answers to questions posed by attendees during and after the event.

"Scientific analysis applied to artworks serves several purposes, chiefly to guide conservation treatment and to inform art history on the physical aspects of the making of art. Cleaning and corrosion removal are operations that frequently entail irreversible changes to an artwork and therefore often require testing to determine their feasibility and impact on the object. As in medicine, the first priority of conservation should be to do no harm. Historically, many attempts to clean and “restore” artworks have been marred by misunderstandings about their materials and original appearance, or by the prioritization, in the imaginations of collectors, of certain characteristics over others that were essential to the artist’s original work. The example of the cleaning and recarving of Greek and Roman sculptures that occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries, during which polychrome decoration was often lost, provides a cautionary tale for how we should approach Asian art. The Victorian preference for white marble surfaces as aesthetically desirable, coupled with an antihistorical denigration of the role of color in the ancient world, allowed much to be lost forever.

Chinese sculptures in wood and stone are widely appreciated to have been decorated with polychrome. What is less often understood is that they were subject to multiple devotional redecorations during their existence in worship and that common practice was to cover the earlier layers rather than remove them. Unfortunately, Chinese sculptures with damaged polychrome decoration have sometimes been stripped of paint remnants in a quest to elevate sculptural form and uniformity. When they have not been removed, scientific study of these successive paint layers allows us to understand the chronology of costume styles preserved there and to date them.

Even less recognized are metal sculptures that were decorated with painted polychromy augmenting gilt bronze. Two sculptures dating to the 8th century CE illustrate the essential role of scientific testing in recognizing the presence of polychrome and preventing its destruction. Testing of a corrosion-covered, late Sui or early Tang bronze Avalokiteshvara revealed painted linework and shading over gold that have become inextricably bound with corrosion products from the bronze and incrusting minerals acquired from the environment. Testing of a Korean gilt copper “medicine” Buddha, which radiocarbon dating confirmed to be of the late 7th to early 8th century, reveals decoration with opaque aquamarine glass and rock crystal “jewels,” the latter of which derived their color from painted settings, contrasting with painted flowers. The peculiar yellow hair of this Buddha, which convention dictates should be blue or black, represents the first discovery of the iron phosphate mineral vivianite in Asian polychrome decoration. Rare encounters with this pigment in Dutch painting of the 17th century, including in the work of Rembrandt’s first pupil, Gerrit Dou, inform this discovery and explain the contradictory color. Vivianite, known as blue ochre, is unstable. It transforms to the yellow color seen today in the Buddha’s hair by an irreversible oxidation of the iron. Recognizing this same formerly blue pigment in the painted centers of gold-petalled flowers garlanding the Buddha’s base allows us to visualize the original color scheme. It included orange-backed rock crystal flowers alternating with blue painted flowers around the base, and turquoise glass flowers alternating with orange-painted rock crystals in the mandorla.

Today, these decorations are permeated by corrosion products and mineral deposits that variously contrast with, or blend in among the original colors of the work. Survival has been selective, with discolored successors of some of the artist’s original colors, altered by the environment, alongside intact neighbors. While part of the corrosion might be removable, the majority of these transformations are irreversible. Scientific examination allows the original appearance to be appreciated for what remains and predicts that some aspects of the original appearance cannot be recovered through any form of treatment. It shows that the stripping of corrosion, once conceived as the appropriate means of revealing a gilded surface, instead would have misrepresented these two works. A successful treatment of that kind would expose them in a way that their makers never intended them to be seen and skew modern understanding of the art of the period. Such cases pose a challenge to all concerned but they also present opportunities—to collectors, in their stewardship of the art, to foster scholarship and high standards of care; to the conservator, to exercise restraint and to consider the potential for new discoveries; and to the scientist, to not merely record what remains but to interpret its origins and reconstruct the artist’s methodology.”

Details of this work may be found in the following publication:
John Twilley, Polychrome Decorations on Far Eastern Gilt Bronze Sculpture of the Eighth Century, In Scientific Research on the Sculptural Arts of Asia, Proceedings of the Third Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art, J.A. Douglas, P. Jett, and J. Winter, eds., Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, 2007, pp.174-187

Bronze Avalokitesvara with painted details, late Sui-early Tang dynasty (8th century)

Some questions and answers about metal conservation:

1. Can the corrosion be removed to allow the original gilding to show? If not, why not?

For these two cases, we now know that the original decoration was not a uniform layer of gilding. It involved paints applied atop the gilding to contrast with it. The corrosion now permeates the paint. Removing the corrosion would result in removing the paint to give a stripped-down gold surface that was never intended to exist alone. From a practical standpoint, corrosion has undercut some of the gilding so that the gilding now adheres to the corrosion on top better than it does to the original surface below, from which it may easily be lost. As the photo detail of the face of the Avalokiteshvara showed, removing the external corrosion leads to in an uneven result with dull, copper-colored areas alongside bright gilding and remnants of the paint.

2. I collect early (Momoyama Period) steel Japanese tsuba (sword guards). Often, these objects present with varying degrees of rust. Should ALL of this rust be removed?

Rust that is orange in color is not necessarily active, though it may be. Iron rust is often exacerbated by chloride salts that cause even more trouble for iron than they do for bronze. In severe cases, droplets or weeping trails of orange liquid may develop because the iron chlorides have such high affinity for moisture in the air. This can cause the problem to migrate, damaging new areas. Because the chloride is never consumed, it goes on stimulating further corrosion. The chlorides responsible for this need to be removed as thoroughly as possible because suppressing this kind of corrosion by maintaining a sufficiently dry environment is almost impossible, even in a museum case. A good solution usually involves a combination of removal of accessible chlorides, treatment by a corrosion inhibitor, and housing in a dehumidified enclosure. The latter implies a continuing need for maintenance.

3. How is “proper condition” of conserved objects determined, exactly? Who decides?

The decision needs to be based on a dialog between the art historian/archeologist/historian, the conservator, and owner, but a dialog that is informed as fully as possible about the ramifications of treatment that may impact materials associated with the item of primary interest. For example, an understanding is taking hold in paleontology that "preparing" skeletons often results in the erasure of vast amounts of information in the form of fossil remnants of soft tissue, feathers, hair, etc. that were not formerly recognized to have survived. X-ray tomography systems are now coming on-line that are capable of discerning things as minor as an insect fossil inside a block of stone. So paleontology is looking toward a future in which physical divestment of fossils will be greatly reduced or reserved for duplicate specimens. In archaeological artifacts, we routinely see equivalent cases of the preservation of cloth, leather, pigments, lacquer coatings, and other associated goods in the form of corrosion pseudomorphs (early-stage fossils, if you will) that can expand an understanding of the artifact if they are not discarded in a quest to uncover something. If we are to avoid our irreversible actions being regretted by those who come after, as we regret the recarving of Greek and Roman sculpture in the 18th century, we need to minimize the impact of our imperfect understanding.

This post is part three of a three-part essay about our Webinar, Tales in Conservation. To read part one Click here. To read part two Click here.

Watch an excerpt from the Tales in Conservation webinar:

Asia Week New York's next webinar: Tales in Connoisseurship: Appreciating Indian Painting

January 14, 2021

A party of hunters returning to camp (detail), Leaf from the British Library-Chester Beatty Library Akbarnama, Mughal India, 1603-04, 9 by 5 in., 22.9 by 12.7 cm., painting; 12 ¼ by 8 ½ in., 31 by 21.5 cm. folio, Image courtesy of Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch Ltd.

Asia Week New York is pleased to host a panel discussion, Tales in Connoisseurship: Appreciating Indian Painting, on Thursday, January 28 at 5pm EST.

What is the most important ingredient in appreciating art? Join our renowned panel of experts: Brendan Lynch, co-director, Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch Ltd., London; Marika Sardar PhD, Curator, The Aga Khan Museum and Gursharan Sidhu, PhD as they reveal their personal journeys of connoisseurship in the rich and wonderful world of Indian Paintings. The conversation will be moderated by Anu Ghosh-Mazumdar, Head of Department, Indian & Southeast Asian Art, Sotheby’s.

Register here:


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