Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Warriors, Tombs and Temples


Exhibition Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, October 1, 2011- March 4, 2012

Follow this exhibition through the underworld empires of three of the most formative dynasties in Chinese history: the Qin, the Han and the Tang, each a high point of culture and technology, looked back to with pride by Chinese people and admired by others today. The treasures that accompanied China’s rulers and elites in the afterlife, and the spectacular gold and silver offerings placed in their temples, speak to the incredible accomplishments of an ancient culture whose descendants still live on today. The exhibition features the famous life-size terra cotta warriors, protector of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuangdi, whose mausoleum complex is considered the eighth wonder of the world. Newly excavated, the painted garments and armor are clearly visible thanks to new conservation techniques. Smaller in scale but equally impressive are some of the more than 40,000 smiling terra cotta warriors from the imperial tomb compounds of Han emperors Gaozu and Jingdi. They are presented in combination with concubines, animals and a multitude of objects that insured a lavish and comfortable afterlife. The royal and elite tombs from the Tang Dynasty were stocked with riches clearly tied to the trade of exotic goods along the Silk Road. Dazzling gold ornaments, tomb guardians, a mural depicting a game of polo and many other luxuries illustrate the taste of Tang elites and the era’s connection with the West. And, for the first time in the United States, come gold, silver and gemstone treasures deposited into the treasure-crypt of the Famen Monastery by six Tang Dynasty emperors and China’s only female emperor Wu Zhao. This important Buddhist site, sealed in 874 of the Tang Dynasty and rediscovered in 1987, was founded with the fragment of the historical Buddha’s finger bone. The reliquaries associated with the sacred relic are part of this exhibition.

Monday, 30 January 2012

National Palace Museum – Splendid Masterpieces

From: Asian Art Blog, January 16, 2012

The National Palace Museum in Taipei has put some of their finest collection pieces online. Interesting not only for researchers, some calligraphy scrolls including Wang Xizhi or Huai Su from Tang Dynasty are completely reproduced online. This is the first time in history, that you can take a full look on imperial collection srolls with your computer!

 Go to the website: Splendid Masterpieces

From the Introduction to the online exhibition:

  The overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911 set the stage for the formal establishment of the Republic of China in the following year. Based on the principles of democracy, the possessions acquired by the imperial family were returned to the public to be shared by all. In the first year of the Republic, 1912, the Museum of History was established at the Directorate of Education. Two years later, objects at the temporary palaces in Shengjing and Jehol in Liaoning were gathered to form the Institute for Exhibiting Antiquities. And after the abdicated emperor family left the palace in 1924, an inventory of the collection in the Forbidden City was finally conducted. In the following year on October 10, National Day, the Palace Museum was founded and opened to the public for viewing. What followed was the development of its functions as a public museum devoted to the exhibition, research, collection, education, and promotion of its holdings. To avoid the flames of war, however, the cream of the collection several times was crated and transported to safety. In 1965, the Central Museum (with its objects mostly from the Institute for Exhibiting Antiquities) and the Museum of History along with the Palace Museum (with their holdings for the most part from the Forbidden City) were brought together to form the National Palace Museum in the Taipei suburb of Waishuangxi, creating a treasury and bastion of Chinese art and culture famous the world over. As such, the collection of the National Palace Museum principally derives from the Qing dynasty court. The holdings inherited from the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasty courts can be summed up as a "national treasure."In other words, these objects form a national treasury passed down through the ages. Along with new acquisitions in the form of donations and purchases since the founding of the Republic, the National Palace Museum now features a staggering collection of more than 680,000 objects. In addition to treasures of antiquities, painting and calligraphy, and rare books spanning 8,000 years of Chinese culture, the collection also features the essence of arts and crafts supervised by the Qing court along with its wealth of archival materials. Since the Museum opened in Taipei, comprehensive and special permanent exhibitions have been complemented by publications, lectures, and symposia, providing audiences with not only a feast for the eyes but also first-hand historical materials for research, thereby continuously promoting the collection as a source for creativity in modern life. Over the past century, archaeological discoveries have revealed the pluralistic face of ancient Chinese civilization. Around the world, various public and private collections along with historical materials continue to be made available to all, with the holdings of the National Palace Museum becoming increasingly cherished for its value. For example, in a tradition that emphasizes rites and antiquity, the Museum's collection of a long segmented jade cong tube from the Liangzhu Culture and a meticulously carved jade gui tablet of the Longshan Culture, both from the Neolithic Age, testify to the spiritual content and technical achievements of remote antiquity. Although it was a period the Qing emperors could not fully understand, their inscriptions on these works still clearly echo with an artistic aesthetic that has spanned time and space. Another example is collectanea of the Ming and Qing dynasties that required enormous expenditures of national resources and labor to compile, including the Yongle Encyclopedia, Tibetan Dragon Sutra, and Complete Library of the Four Treasuries. Transcribing and collating to preserve the classics can be called an important feat in the history of humanity as well. As for the history of painting and calligraphy, the masterpieces of such groundbreaking artists as Wang Xizhi, Sun Guoting, Yan Zhenqing, Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, and Li Tang reveal a masterful wielding of brush and ink. Illuminating the hills and valleys of the mind, they continued the joint artistic tradition within Chinese culture. And emperors over the dynasties also supervised craftsmen, resulting in the production of various renowned works, such as official porcelains of the Song dynasty; lacquerware of the Yongle period and doucai porcelains of the Chenghua era in the Ming dynasty; and falangcai enamelware and Songhua inkstones of the Qing court. All of these brought out the finest achievements in arts and crafts at the time they were produced. And exquisite carvings, such as the jadeite cabbage and olive-pit boat in the Museum collection, continue to win the admiration of and become part of the eternal collective memory of visitors. The history of the National Palace Museum is intricately related to that of the Republic of China. On this occasion of the country's centennial celebrations, the Museum has gathered and presented a special selection of a hundred objects noted for their historic significance, importance, rarity, artistry, and popularity. In doing so, they illustrate a continuous heritage of art and culture as well as their multiple facets, also offering by extension blessings for the continued prosperity and good fortune of the nation.

Mound Tomb of the Yue State Elite Found at Taozhuang Site, Anhui Province

From: Chinese Archaeology January 29, 2012

In order to fit the infrastructure, excavations were constantly conducted by Anhui provincial institute of archaeology and cultural relic together with cultural departments in Ma’anshan city and Dangtu county. Taozhuang site, situated in Ma’anshan City, was excavated from 10th, July, 2011 till 20th September, 2011. As a result, an area, a total of 800 square meter, have been eventually explored. Of a series of significant archaeological achievements, a mound tomb was impressive, as for ceramics, proto-porcelains, and other cherish cultural relics up to forty were unearthed in the tomb. Taozhuang mound tomb, dating to the Warring States, was 200 meters proximity to Taozhuang village, Xinshi town, Dangtu county. The mound tomb, set in an earth shallow pit, was partly destroyed, preserved with its main mound ca. 1 meter high. The bottom of the grave may have been oval, with its longer diameter 23 meter, shorter one 18 meter. Oriented east to west, the tomb measured 6.7 meter long, 3.5 meter wide and 0.55 meter deep. The evidence of remained ashes of wooden slabs may suggest that coffin chamber would have been 5.1 meter long and 2.5 meter wide. The chamber seems to have been divided into two sub-chambers, to the east and to the west. There were several human teeth and bones remained in the middle and to the north of the eastern chamber, and in the northeastern part of the western chamber. It is to be noticed that four limb bones were distributed in the northeastern part of the western chamber, from the east to west, every two a group. An irregular, oval earth pit, with the soil grey and brownish, was found out of the eastern burial chamber. The pit measured 1.6 meter in longer diameter, and 0.9 meter in shorter diameter, and 0.16 meter in depth. Within the pit lay well-preserved femur bones, indicating the orientation of the death: to the north. The evidence of these remained bones and teeth may suggest that the burial would have been a communal tomb. Otherwise, the earth pit out of the burial chamber may have had the purpose of sacrifice.
Funerary inventories include two categories: pottery manufactured for the purpose of burial, i.e., ritual ceramics and imitating bronze, such as ding tripod, tripod plate, washbasin with a tubular handle, angular vessel, and etc. There were ceramics connected with domestic function as the other category, including pottery, impressed ware and proto-porcelain. It should be notice of a variety of pottery forms, such as pottery fu vessel, steamer, bowls, and spinning wheels. Impressed wares have jars, and urns. Small bu vase, cup and goblet are part of proto-porcelains. Besides, the archaeologists found a bronze arrowhead and a dragonfly eye ball made of glass. Pottery, impressed ceramics and proto-porcelains were mainly concentrated in the coffin chamber to the west. In contrast to three categories mentioned above, other items like a proto-porcelain bu vase, washbasin with a tubular handle, tripod plate, bronze arrowhead and glass eye ball were placed in the eastern part of the burial chamber. Feature of the burial inventories and their groupings may suggest a date of the grave, i.e. the Early Warring States. Some factors, like grave scale, grave form, existence of ritual ceramics and groupings of this kind of ceramics, may indicate the status of the death: moderate or low-grade elite. During the Early Warring States, a flourishing time after Wu state was conquered by Yue state, most of the funerary items were from Yue region. Thus, this mound tomb may have been built in the Early Warring States Period.
Mound tomb, a common inhumation form, seems to have been prevalent in the Wu and Yue states in the Shang-Zhou Periods, including normal and stone-chamber mound tombs. This kind of inhumation was often seen in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai and Anhui provinces, dating to a periods from the Western Zhou to Spring and Autumn Periods. But, intensively impacted by burial system used in Central plain and Chu state, rectangular shaft earth tombs seem to have initially been present and later on commonly used within Wu and Yue states since the Late Spring and Autumn Periods. Till the Early Warring States period, the use of mound tomb may have been almost replaced. Thus, it is certain that such kind of tomb was found in Anhui for the first time; otherwise, Jiangsu and Zhejiang areas have a smaller quantity of mound tombs to be found. It is noticeable that Taozhuang mound tomb, found in Dangtu county, Xinshi town, adjacent to Nanjing in Jiangsu province, occupies the core location within Ningzhen town area. The use of mound tombs may have undergone three phases of development: mound tomb, transition of mound tombs to rectangular shaft earth tombs, and rectangular shaft earth tomb. In conclusion, the excavations of Taozhuang site mound tomb could provide the substantial material for burial system and burial customs prevalent during the Early Warring States period. Meanwhile, the work could be taken as significant evidence for the study of mound tomb evolution within Ningzhen region. The assemble of proto-porcelain, impressed pottery, ritual pottery and imitating bronze, and the discovery of sacrificial pit may provide essential clue for the understanding of the politics, economics and cultural communication with other regions. (Translator: Sang Li)

Relics from Yinxu Ruins on display in Sichuan

From China Daily January 20, 2012
A bronze tripod from the Yinxu Ruins will be on display in the Jinsha Site Museum in Sichuan province for three months. 

The mention of the Jinsha Site Museum in Chengdu at this time of year would remind people in the capital city of Sichuan province of the famed lantern festival held there during the Spring Festival each year. Visitors to the museum displaying priceless cultural relics about the history of Sichuan would be given a pleasant surprise this Spring Festival, however, as 136 relics of oracle bones as well as bronze and jade and a carriage from the Yinxu Ruins in Anyang, Henan province, will be on display there. Appreciating the relics on display in Sichuan for the first time, visitors will find stamps engraved with motifs of typical relics from the Yinxu Ruins and can have the motifs stamped on paper as souvenirs Unearthed in 1899, ruins in Anyang called Yinxu have been found to be the capital of the Late Shang Dynasty (1766-1050 BC). The original source of oracle bone scripts, the ruins reflect a splendid culture in ancient China. Yinxu was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006.

Visitors admire a carriage from the Yinxu Ruins in Anyang, Henan province, which will be on display in the Jinsha Site Museum in Sichuan province for three months.

 For more photo's, click HERE

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Buried Treasure

The Wall Street Journal by Maria Mazria Katz, January 27, 2012

  Archaeologists are racing to save Afghanistan's cultural heritage before the Chinese start digging on one of the world's most valuable new copper mine

A guard and a relic at the National Museum of Afghanistan Photograph by Leon Chew

 For 1,500 years, the sandstone cliffs of afghanistan's Bamiyan valley encased two towering Buddhas peering sleepily from their caves onto patches of magnolia trees. Nearly 11 years ago, however, the statues were destroyed by tanks, explosives and antiaircraft weapons on the orders of the Taliban government, which condemned the Buddhas as "idols." So if you flew into the smog-filled skies of Kabul today, interested in looking for one of the country's most important Buddhist sites, you'd have to head 25 miles southeast, where you'd find yourself at Mes Aynak, on the edge of the tiny but strategically located Logar province. Mes Aynak is a sprawling, mountainous, 9,800-acre site studded with artifacts that archaeologists believe are as significant as the Bamiyan Buddhas, as well as the remains of civilizations that stretch back to the time of Alexander the Great. It is also, coincidentally, a copper mine—in fact, it's the site of the second-largest copper deposit in the world. Mes Aynak is one of dozens of known sites across Afghanistan brimming with rich deposits of other minerals—iron ore, lithium and cobalt. Not surprisingly, the Afghanistan government is determined to cash in, especially since the United States plans to pull out most of its combat troops by the end of 2014 and reduce accompanying aid in the coming years. Afghanistan has struck an estimated $3 billion deal with the China Metallurgical Group Corporation, a Chinese government–owned company, to mine the copper deposit within the next 30 years. While this certainly could be a jackpot for the poverty-stricken country, it could also come at the price of Afghanistan's cultural heritage.
A dig in Mes Aynak reveals the remains of an ancient Buddhist monastery Photograph by Leon Chew

 The Chinese beat out bidders from Australia and India to win the project, but with a stipulation that mining would not begin until 2014, so archaeologists could dig. The Chinese provided infrastructure and equipment for the excavation, for which the World Bank and the American Embassy, among others, kicked in around $10 million of the estimated $28 million budget. The Chinese have installed an impressive concrete-and-barbed-wire fence along the perimeter, and the Afghan police have provided a brigade of 1,600 guards to protect the copper. For years the site has been plagued by vandals who have chopped body parts off of countless statues to sell on the black market. "The black side of this country is drugs and war, but another Afghanistan, where suffering isn't the story, could exist," says Philippe Marquis, the director of the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan (DAFA), who has been leading the excavation to extract as many treasures as possible before the drilling begins. On the day that I visit, Marquis and his team—which at any given time can include up to 30 trained archaeologists, 50 university students and 150 workers—face a new obstacle: The excavation has been temporarily halted because of some administrative snafu in the Afghan government. Although Marquis is careful not to show his angst, every day that passes means less time to excavate.

An intact ruin that was once a museum Photograph by Leon Chew

 We walk up a flight of stairs chiseled into the cheek of a dusty hillside where white tarps enshroud a city of relics, including grand terra-cotta structures used for worshipping, a corridor leading to a small chapel with a seated Buddha, and fragments of faded red frescoes (although most have been removed by the archaeologists, others have been ravaged by looters). Beyond that, more corridors and Buddhas, some with legs crossed, wrapped in what looks like billowy linens. Narrow lookouts carved into cappuccino-colored, baked-brick walls skirt the edges of the monastery. "Preferably, a dig of this nature would remain in situ," Marquis says. "But because of the proximity to the future mine, everything that can be removed must go. Eventually this entire area will become a huge copper pit."

A detail of a stupa in Mes Aynak

 It's a daunting task—the treasures are spread out over nearly 100 acres, and the clock is ticking—but Marquis is optimistic his team can complete the excavation in time. "Considering the damage done by the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, Mes Aynak could be a chance for redemption," explains Marquis. "It's an opportunity for the Afghans to take control of their cultural heritage." Back in Kabul, Omar Sultan, an archaeologist who is now deputy minister of culture and heritage in the Ministry of Information and Culture, is banking on Marquis's success. "Just like the minerals, only 10 percent of Afghans' cultural heritage is out of the earth," says Sultan, sitting in his cavernous office, in a building tucked behind a towering concrete wall wrapped in barbed wire in the center of the capital. "And with the help of these minerals, we are going to save our cultural heritage."

UNEARTHING HISTORY | Philippe Marquis, far left, and Nicolas Engel, director and deputy director of the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan, oversee excavations

Until 1978 a major source of Afghanistan's income was tourism, explains Sultan. Back then visitors included mountain climbers lured by treks across Noshaq, the country's highest peak, and sightseers seeking out the ancient shrines and archaeological sites of the Balkh province. Security and a potentially viable cultural infrastructure have Sultan thinking there's a chance tourists may one day come back. "If, God willing, this country is going to stand up on its own two feet, it is going to be because of tourism," he says. Critics at home and abroad continue to fire accusations of corruption and incompetence at the Karzai government. The former minister of mines, Mohammad Ibrahim Adel, for instance, was accused of receiving roughly $30 million in bribes from the Chinese to win the Mes Aynak bid. (Adel stepped down but has denied the allegations.) But the preservation of cultural heritage isn't just rhetoric. The progress here in the Logar province is evidence of its importance to those who are trying to rebuild Afghanistan.

SAVING GRACE | The president of the National Museum of Afghanistan, Omara Khan Massoudi "

The best thing about the Mes Aynak mining operation is the link between commercial activity and protecting cultural resources," says Michael Stanley, a mining specialist for the World Bank. Stanley believes that Mes Aynak could establish a model in which each new mine containing antiquities would be accompanied by archaeological surveys and cultural investments in the surrounding areas. Indeed, the Ministry of Information and Culture is spearheading the creation of a new museum in the heart of Logar to house artifacts from Mes Aynak—a much needed project, since the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul cannot handle the scale of the excavation. At one time the museum, located on the outskirts of town, facing a charred former king's palace, contained some of the most important finds in Central Asia, including ivory from India, bronze from the Roman Empire, and lacquer from China—all recovered from the time when the region was a vital transport stop along the Silk Road. During the country's civil war in the 1990s, however, the museum lost more than 70 percent of its collection to looting and bombings. The gray stucco building was abandoned for years until the fighting subsided. Fresh coats of paint have erased the blemished and puffy traces of years of water damage. Stunning relics, like the clay head of a goddess from the fifth century A.D., sit under loosely hung track lights in rooms without guards. One main gallery displays a new exhibition—some early findings from Mes Aynak.

Archaeologist and ethnographer Besmillah Popal spends his days preserving historical artifacts

 Here, modest glass cases enclose one of the world's oldest seated wooden Buddhas and four torsos from as early as the third century, each missing their heads due to looters. Although the U.S. has pledged $5 million to resuscitate the museum, and an extra $1 million for partnering with an American institution to train employees, the conditions here are still precarious, with no heating and cooling system in place and only eight conservators on staff. The office of the museum's president, Omara Khan Massoudi, overlooks armed guards standing below budding cherry blossom trees. "Art is our responsibility," says Massoudi. "It is the one thing that gives the message to people outside who only hear about killings and bombings that we are not just fighters and terrorists." As he speaks, he snakes tasbih, Islamic prayer beads, around his fingers. "And all of these monuments, including Mes Aynak, are the bridges. Every antiquity has a voice of its own that can help send these messages."
SITE IN PROGRESS | The Chinese camp where up to 200 people will stay while digging.

 Massoudi's sentiment is felt most sharply on the campus of Kabul University, where pine and fir trees shade boxy, Bauhaus-inspired structures. Students in traditional dress mix with those in acid-washed jeans and collared shirts. All of the young women have their heads covered, but some of them bare strands of bangs. In one mustard-yellow and rust-colored building, a group of archaeology students have gathered to discuss past trips to Mes Aynak and their hopes of one day returning. The possibility that more archaeological sites will appear in the near future has resulted in exponentially growing class sizes in the past couple of years. But as Ahmad Zia Haidari, a junior, explains, the decision to study in the department was not just about the sector's potential economic benefits. "I had many chances to choose other professions, but it was the deep emotional connection I got when visiting archaeological sites that made me know it was right," he says. At 21, Haidari has only ever known Afghanistan in a state of war. "I looked down, saw the relics and knew," he says, pausing to glance at the other students. "The only way we are going to show the world how strong and powerful we were and could be is through our culture."

Following in the Footsteps of Grünwedel.

Cave of the ring-bearing doves', Kizil near Kucha (Xinjiang), 5th century BCE. © National Museums in Berlin; Museum of Asian Art

Following in the Footsteps of Grünwedel. 
Research on the restoration of Central Asiatic wall paintings as part of the KUR program me
Exhibition in Museum Dahlem, Berlin
10 December 2011 - 29 April 2012

The National Museums in Berlin owns the most important collection of artworks from Central Asia in the world. For this we mainly have to thank the inquiring mind of researcher and indologist Albert Grünwedel (1876-1935). Grünwedel led the first Turfan expedition in 1902 and was director of the Department of Indian Art at the Museum of European Ethnology in Berlin. Albert Grünwedel's discoveries included wall paintings, clay sculptures, stone and wooden artefacts, textiles, metal objects and manuscripts, some of which were transported back to Berlin. The various publications of the results of his research into the art history and archaeology of this region were pivotal in introducing the Buddhist high culture of Central Asia to Germany and even to the rest of Europe. The exhibition explores the 100-year history of these valuable Buddhist wall paintings in the context of the museum and the German archaeological expeditions and highlights groundbreaking new strategies that have been developed to preserve the collection.

Kleine Bachschlucht in der Oase von Kizil. Im Hintergrund befinden sich Eingänge zu verschiedenen Kulthöhlen. Foto: Toralf Grabsch

 Press release:
Ab 10.12.2011 ist im Museum für Asiatische Kunst in Berlin-Dahlem die Ausstellung "Auf Grünwedels Spuren" zu sehen. Umfangreiche wissenschaftliche und restauratorische Arbeiten zur Erhaltung der zentralasiatischen buddhistischen Wandmalereien des 5. und 6. Jahrhunderts n. Chr. im Museum für Asiatische Kunst in Berlin werden dann bis zum 30. April 2012 der Öffentlichkeit präsentiert. Dass die Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin die weltweit bedeutendste Sammlung zentralasiatischer Kunstschätze besitzen, ist insbesondere dem Forschergeist des Indologen Albert Grünwedel (1856 bis 1935) zu verdanken. Als Mitarbeiter sind hier vor allem sein Nachfolger Albert von Le Coq (1860 bis 1930) und der Museumstechniker Theodor Bartus (1858 bis 1941) zu nennen. Ausgelöst durch Reiseberichte gegen Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts aus Ost–Turkistan, richtete sich die Aufmerksamkeit zahlreicher Wissenschaftler zunehmend auf die untergegangenen Kulturen entlang der Seidenstraße. Die Expedition, die der Schwede Sven Hedin (1865 bis 1952) im Jahre 1896 unternahm und die archäologische Expedition der Akademie der Wissenschaften in St. Petersburg unter der Leitung von Dimitri Alexan- drowitsch Klementz (1848 bis 1914) lieferten durch zahlreiche von dort mitgebrachte Fundstücke den Beweis, dass am Rande des Tarimbeckens in Zentralasien eine Vielzahl bisher unerforschter buddhistischer Kultstätten vorhanden war. Dass hierdurch auch bei den Berliner Wissenschaftlern geweckte Interesse war nun so groß geworden, dass die Indische Abteilung des damaligen Berliner Völkerkundemuseums zwischen 1902 und 1914 insgesamt vier Expeditionen an die nördliche Seidenstraße entsandte. Die von Albert Grünwedel publizierten kunstwissenschaftlichen und ar- chäologischen Ergebnisse seiner Forschungen zu den entdeckten und teilweise nach Berlin verbrachten Wandmalereien, Lehmskulpturen, Stein- und Holzobjekten, Textilien, Metallfunden und Handschriften machten in Deutschland und darüber hinaus in ganz Europa die buddhistische Hochkultur Zentralasiens bekannt. Seinen ersten Reisebericht von den Forschungen und Ausgrabungen in Ost–Turkestan publiziert er 1905 unter dem Titel: Bericht über die archäologischen Arbeiten in Idikutschari und Umgebung im Winter 1902/03 (München 1905). Ein weiteres für Kunsthistoriker und Restauratoren besonders hilfreiches Werk veröffentlicht er nach der großen Expedition 1905/07 unter dem Titel: Altbuddhistische Kultstätten in Chinesisch - Turkistan (Berlin 1912). Dieses Buch mit seinen außergewöhnlich genauen Beschreibungen, Fotografien und Abbildungen von Pausen und Plänen zahlreicher zentral- asiatischer Bildwerke, ist für die heutige Restaurierung und Konservierung der Objekte im Museum für Asiatische Kunst von unschätzbarem Wert. In dieser Publikation sind viele der von ihm entdeckten Höhlentempel mit ihren reichhaltigen Secco - Wandmalereien aus dem 3. bis 10. Jh. n. Chr. so präzise beschrieben, vermessen und zeichnerisch abgebildet, dass heute sogar genaueste Rekonstruktionen der vielen Kriegsverluste angefertigt werden können.

Zeichnung von zwei tocharischen Fürsten aus der »Höhle der 16 Schwert- träger« von Albert Grünwedel 1906. Foto: Bildarchiv SMB

 Die von Grünwedel in seinen Werken dokumentierten Tempelanlagen befinden sich am Rande der Wüste Taklamakan, abseits der Zentren der nördlichen Seidenstraße. In das weiche Gestein des Gebirgszuges sind dort eine Vielzahl von Höhlen, die als Wohn- und Meditationsräume von buddhistische Mönchen genutzt wurden, eingegraben und, wenn sie als Kulthöhlen dienten, vielfach farbenprächtig ausgemalt. Die Lebens- und Expeditionsgeschichte von Albert Grünwedel und die umfangreiche wissenschaftliche Restaurierung seit 1998 an der weltberühmten Turfan-Sammlung stehen im Mittelpunkt dieser Ausstellung. Eine zentrale Rolle spielte dabei das seit 2008 laufende KUR-Projekt (gefördert durch die Kulturstiftungen des Bundes und der Länder und der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz) mit dem Titel "Alterung von künstlichen Bindemitteln auf Wandmalereien". In diesem Projekt konnten erstmals vielfältige naturwissenschaftliche Untersuchungen mit dem Rathgen- Forschungslabor und der Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und - prüfung (BAM) zur Anwendung gebracht werden. Ziel der Untersuchungen sollte die Entfernung der in den 60er Jahren als Konservierungsmittel in die Wandmalereien eingebrachten Kunststoffe sein. Auch wurden viele Wandmalereien der „Höhle der 16 Schwertträger“ aus dem 5. Jh. n. Chr. umfassend restauriert. Darüber hinaus war es einem Expeditionsteam des Museums für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin, im September 2011 erstmals möglich, umfassende Untersuchungen an Wandmalereien in den verschiedenen Oasen entlang der nördlichen Seidenstraße in der chinesischen Provinz Xinjiang durchzuführen. Viele Jahre nach dem Ende der Turfan-Expeditionen 1914, wird es dem Publikum nun möglich sein, alle im Museum befindlichen Wandmalereien (ca. 30 qm ) dieser Kulthöhle mit ihren buddhistischen Verehrungsszenen im Zusammenhang zu betrachten. Die im KUR-Projekt geleistete Restaurierungsforschung bildet die Grund- lage für weitere geplante Forschungsvorhaben insbesondere zur antiken Maltechnik in Zentralasien. Ziel dieser Ausstellung ist es, einerseits die 100-jährige Museums- und Expeditionsgeschichte dieser wertvollen buddhistischen Gemälde zu erläutern und andererseits die neu erarbeiteten wegweisenden Erhaltungsstrategien für diese Sammlung einer breiten Öffentlichkeit zu präsentieren.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

River of Wisdom

River of Wisdom – Animated Version of the Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival

27 November, 2010 by Roland Lim in his blog " The World according to Roland"

 In the Shanghai World Expo 2010, the “Animated Version of the Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival” created by modern multimedia technology earns its reputation as the star exhibit in the China Pavilion. Projected on a giant screen of more than 120 metres long and 6 metres high, the picture shows its details with animation including moving people, running water, various kinds of goods being displayed for sale, boat trackers shouting on the river and boats swinging their ways forward. A vivid, artificial river meanders through the lower part of the giant picture, giving visitors a stunning experience and an illusion that they are staying in Bianjing, the capital of Northern Song Dynasty nine hundred years ago. This giant picture is called “River of Wisdom” because it depicts many cultural aspects demonstrating the wisdom of Chinese in ancient times. The animated version of the picture is 30 times of its original scroll. Elaborate computer animation gives life to characters and objects in the painting. An integrated image is formed by several high resolution projectors using sophisticated computer geometric transformation and correction technology. The entire features of the original painting including all its streets, boats and buildings are retained in the animation. The scene is portrayed in day to night cycles lasting for four minutes with dramatic interplay of light and colour. It is indeed a masterpiece that blends state-of-the-art animation technology with traditional Chinese culture. Additional elements of history, culture, art and education are incorporated in the exhibition. These include the introduction of the significance of the “Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival” in the Chinese culture and art, and the depiction of the production idea and process of its animated version. The exhibition facilitates visitors to learn more about the urban outlook, people’s daily life and the achievements in science and technology in Song Dynasty.
 I was lucky to have obtained a ticket to see River of Wisdom when it was temporarily moved to the AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong for short term exhibition after the Shanghai World Expo finished. The scale of the display simply huge and one needs to be there in person to a a perspective of how large it is. I have made a short video with Canon EOS 5D Mark II. I hope you will enjoy it.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Bactrian Greeks, the Bamiyan and Avukana Buddha statues

Rajitha Weerakoon discusses the Greek connection with colossal Buddha statues Around 30,000 Greek bhikkhus had arrived in Anuradhapura from the monasteries of Alasanda (the city of the Yonas, Alexandria in present Afghanistan) according to Geiger’s Mahavamsa (chapter XX1X (39)) to participate in the inauguration of the construction of the Mahaseya (Ruvanveliseya.) The Greek bhikkhus led by Yonamahadharmarakkhita Thera had been part of 96,000 foreign bhikkhus who had arrived from several ancient Indian states and Persia for the ceremonial event. Evidently, Buddhism had been the vibrant force behind Sri Lanka’s interaction with foreign countries in early history and as studies reveal, Bactrian Greek (Indo-Greek) influence in days gone by has had a lasting impact on Sri Lanka. Professor A.D.T.E. Perera of the Department of Philosophy, University of Mexico and former Editor of the Buddhist Encyclopaedia writing a scholarly essay on “Colossal Buddha Images of Ancient Sri Lanka” had stated that Bactrian Greek art influenced the sculpture of colossal images of the Buddha in Sri Lanka. Bactrians, on leaving NW India spread out from Kabul to Punjab after their defeat by Chandragupta in the Mauryan Period. But having been attracted to the new Buddhist doctrine while they were in NW India, they, after their shift, sculpted imposing images of the Buddha in standing position in the Bamiyan Region in Afghanistan which were destroyed by the Taliban a few years ago. These images Professor Perera states led to the ideas pertaining to the turning out of colossal statues of the Buddha in Sri Lanka. The first attempt was the carving of the Avukana Buddha Image in the ancient Rajarata.                                                                    

The Avukana Buddha statue and inset, the Bamiyan Buddha statue 

Bactrian images of the Buddha in the Bamiyan region in Afghanistan Prof. Perera traces may have been a veritable source of inspiration to the early artists who crossed the Kabul valley which linked the Southern branch of the Great Northern Highway referred to in the early Buddhist and Indian texts as “Uttarapada” – the trade route of the then known world which bridged the East and the West on commercial, political and cultural levels. Traders, pilgrims and even men of learning had crossed the region in search of various fortunes. Prof. Perera says that Sri Lankans too may have had links with this ancient world known as Gandhara which covered a vast area extending beyond NW India and it was such religio-cultural-trade contacts that had prevailed between Sri Lanka and the Gandhara region that may have led to the invitation to be extended by King Dutugamunu to the Greek bhikkhus to participate in the inauguration of the construction of the Mahaseya. According to the essay, archaeological researchers and art historians distinguish a close similarity between the Avukana image with that of the Bamiyan. The Bamiyan region had been referred to in early Buddhist Prakrit as Vokkana, Avakana or Vakana. The name Avukana it is surmised had been derived for the colossal statue in Sri Lanka from the name of the Bamiyan region. Bactrian Greek Buddhist artists had been very active in the 2nd or the 3rd centuries BC in the Bamiyan region in West Asia and the Buddha images silhouetted against the vast sandy valley bearing a calm and serene composure may have been an awe-inspiring vision for the travellers who passed by. The images had stood at 112 and 172 feet respectively and were housed within their own chapels. The 43 feet tall Avukana Buddha image depicts the abhaya mudra with the right hand raised towards the right shoulder indicating that the devotee is protected from all fears (bhaya.) The raised left hand is touching the left shoulder with the palm turning towards the Buddha – a gesture seeking the Buddha to release the devotee from sentient bondage (samsara). The back of the image is not separated from the rock boulder out of which the figure is hewn. Professor Perera however states that the Maligavila Buddha image, 52 feet in height with its lotus pedestal, was considered as one of the world’s tallest standing images sculpted in ancient times. It was discovered in southern Sri Lanka fallen with broken limbs and beaten by the elements. This may have been due to the fact that the image carved on limestone was sculpted on the round. It may have fallen unlike other images since it was separated from a living rock. The third colossal Buddha image which Professor Perera had discussed was found at Sasseruva close to Anuradhapura. Sculpted in high relief with the back cleaving to the living rock boulder, the image was either badly weatherworn when it was found or left unfinished by the sculptor. Although it falls short of the elegance of the Avukana image, it bears the same features with regard to stylistic concepts, the hand posture, the method of wearing the “civara” with the right shoulder kept bare and the drapery delineated by parallel ridges as followed by sculptors of the classical period. These Buddha images are dated to around the 4th – the 6th centuries in the present era. All colossal Bamiyan statues had been sculpted by those who advocated Mahayana Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism it is believed had its birth in the Bamiyan part of the Gandhara region. Professor Perera states that the concept of portraying the Buddha in super human qualities – as a saviour of all human and divine beings was followed wherever Mahayana Buddhism spread. The concept of the bodhisatvas belonging to the Mahayana pantheon eventually had found its way into the ensemble of architectural compositions of colossal sculptures in Sri Lanka. Close to the Maligavila Buddha image, a huge bodhisatva image had been disovered. And in the group of colossal sculptures at Buduruvagala, the primary image of the Buddha is flanked by bodhisatva Avalokitheshvara of the Mahayana pantheon with Goddess Tara. On the other side is the bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta with his consort Prajna – all referred to as acolytes of Buddha Amitabha who resides in Sukhavati. The colossal Buddha in parinibbana manca (death bed) sculpted in the Polonnaruwa period does not belong to the Mahayana pantheon. But Professor Perera says that the concept had gained currency even after the fall of Anuradhapura and hence the Polonnaruwa images belonged to the last lap in the classical period of Sinhala art. The Greeks’ entry to the Buddhist theatre in India could be traced to the invasion of Alexander in 334 BC when he captured some parts of the NW India extending as far as the Indus. With the conquest and setting up of Greek settlements, his Greek garrison and a host of camp-followers had poured into NW India who may have been assimilated into the Indian populace. These Greeks, fascinated by the new Buddhist doctrine introduced about 200 years earlier, had embraced Buddhism. Some had joined the Bhikku Order. Although Alexander’s rule in India ended with his death 18 months later, Greek influence continued for several more centuries. It is recorded that Emperor Dharmashoka (about 273-232 BC) in the Mauryan Period sent Greek Bhikkhus such as Dharmarakkhita and Mahadharmarakkhita Theros to Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Cyrene and Epirus as emissaries of Dhamma. In the pre-Graeco period, the image of the Buddha in India was represented symbolically by His Footprints, a lotus, the Bodhi, the Dharmachakra, the Caitya etc. From the Greek-Indian fusion rose the Graeco-Buddhist art of Gandhara when Greeks contributed to the sculpted work of the Ashoka Pillars and to the commencement of the Mauryan art with Buddha image carved. In the earliest sculptures excavated in the Gandhara sites, the Greek influence is seen in the representations of the Buddha where the Buddha had been elevated to a God. The Bactrians who had spread out from NW India and Kabul to Punjab and West Asia progressed into portraying the Buddha figure in superhuman qualities which brought about the origins of the titanic image of the Buddha. With the spread of Mahayana the concept too spread. Besides the colossal images of the Buddha, Greek influence on early literature is discussed by Professor Merlin Peris in his book titled “Mahavamsa Studies Greek myths in Ancient Tradition” where he discloses an element of Greek mythology in certain anecdotes related in the Mahavamsa. Elaborating on his statement he says that L.S. Perera, A.L. Basham and G. C. Mendis in the “University of Ceylon, History of Ceylon” had commented on the affinities which could be seen in Vijaya-Kuveni affair with that of the Greek adventure of Odysseus with Circe in Homer. Professor Peris says that besides, the Greek myth Jason and Medea is emulated in the killing of the yakshas with Kuveni’s help and the dismissal of her and her children for a royal marriage (men are afraid of enchantresses.) Greek story motifs Professor Peris says may have found their way into the “Attakatha Mahavamsa” (pre-Mahavamsa literary work) before being incorporated by the Mahavamsa author when he wrote on the reigns of our earliest kings. Professor Peris sees motifs of the Greek myth of Danae in the episodes of Ummadacitta, certain early heroes and the sacrifice of Viharamahadevi. However, while Professor Peris’ interpretation of incorporation of Greek story motifs in the earliest literary tradition gives food for thought, Greek impact on Sri Lankan religio-culture illustrates the fact that Sri Lanka had been very much in the international whirlpool.

 Source: The Sunday Times (of Sri Lanka)

Scholars intrigued by Afghan scrolls

KABUL, Afghanistan — A cache of ancient Jewish scrolls from northern Afghanistan that recently came to light is creating a storm among scholars who say the find could reveal an undiscovered side of the religion in medieval times. Experts said the 150 or so documents, dated from the 11th century, were found in Afghanistan's Samangan province and most likely smuggled out — a common fate for the impoverished country's antiquities. Israeli emeritus professor Shaul Shaked, who has examined some of the poems, commercial records and judicial agreements that make up the treasure, said while the existence of ancient Afghan Jewish civilization is known, the culture was still a mystery. "Here, for the first time, we see evidence and we can actually study the writings of this Jewish community. It's very exciting," Shaked said from Israel, where he teaches in the comparative religion and Iranian studies department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The cache is being kept by private antique dealers in London, who have been producing a trickle of new documents over the past two years, which is when Shaked believes they were found and pirated out of Afghanistan. It is likely they belonged to Jewish merchants on the Silk Road running across Central Asia, said T. Michael Law, a British Academy postdoctoral fellow at Oxford University's Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Cultural authorities in Kabul had mixed reactions to the find, which scholars say is without a doubt from Afghanistan, arguing that the Judeo-Persian language used on the scrolls is similar to other Afghan Jewish manuscripts. National Archives director Sakhi Muneer denied the find was Afghan, arguing that he would have seen it, while an adviser in the Culture Ministry said it "cannot be confirmed but it is entirely possible." "A lot of old documents and sculptures are not brought to us but are sold elsewhere for 10 times the price" the ministry pays, said adviser Jalal Norani, explaining that excavators and ordinary people who stumble across finds sell them to middlemen who then auction them off in Iran, Pakistan and Europe. "Unfortunately, we cannot stop this," Norani said. The Culture Ministry, he said, pays on average $1,500 for a recovered antique item. The Hebrew University's Shaked estimated the Jewish documents' worth at several million dollars. Thirty years of war and conflict have severely hindered both the collecting and preserving of Afghanistan's antiquities. "I am sure Afghanistan, like any country, would like to control their antiquities. … But on the other hand, with this kind of interest and importance, as a scholar I can't say that I would avoid studying them," Shaked said of the find.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

La Mongolie entre deux ères. 1912-1913

La Mongolie entre deux ères. 1912-1913 

 Du 29 novembre 2011 au 16 septembre 2012, le Conseil général des Hauts-de-Seine présente l’exposition « La Mongolie, entre deux ères. 1912-1913 » au musée Albert-Kahn à Boulogne-Billancourt. Celle-ci révèle la Mongolie du début du XXème siècle mis en valeur par l’un des fleurons du patrimoine du département des Hauts-de-Seine : les collections d’images conservées au musée Albert-Kahn. Rendez-vous au cœur des steppes, parmi les cavaliers, au milieu des yourtes et des temples bouddhistes pour une évocation haute en couleur et riche d’enseignements sur un monde aujourd’hui disparu.

Au total sont présentés : 
72 autochromes (premier procédé industriel de photographie en couleurs véritables) provenant du fonds Albert-Kahn
1 film muet noir et blanc provenant du fonds Albert-Kahn, 1 film noir et blanc provenant des archives Pathé-Gaumont
11 objets archéologiques prêtés par le musée national des arts asiatiques-Guimet
38 reproductions de documents anciens conservés dans des fonds patrimoniaux français et mongols.
500 m2 d’exposition

Eclairage sur l’exposition
Son nom suffit à évoquer l’Ailleurs, le voyage, l’immensité des steppes, les galops des cavaliers nomades, les yourtes… La nouvelle exposition du musée Albert-Kahn plonge le visiteur dans l’univers menacé de la Mongolie du début du 20e siècle.

Si le mode de vie nomade est toujours d’actualité aujourd’hui, bon nombre des autres réalités captées par l’objectif de Stéphane Passet en 1912 et 1913 seront vite balayées par la marche de l’Histoire. Dans cette région dominée par les deux géants que sont la Chine et la Russie, les révolutions sont en marche et bientôt la face du monde sera changée.

À travers 72 photographies, 2 films d’époque et 38 documents d’archives, c’est une Mongolie à la fois proche et lointaine qui s’expose, illustrant la mission fondamentale assignée par Albert Kahn aux opérateurs chargés de constituer les Archives de la Planète : « fixer une fois pour toute des aspects, des pratiques et des modes de l’activité humaine dont la disparition fatale n’est plus qu’une question de temps ». Et, en Mongolie plus qu’ailleurs, le temps était compté.

Pour cette exposition, le Conseil général propose une application iPhone introduisant l’exposition et présentant quelques autochromes, ainsi qu’un audioguide et un parcours-jeu papier pour les enfants. En complément, les visiteurs peuvent accéder dans le musée à un panorama numérique du fonds Mongolie dans les Archives de la Planète.

Les grands axes de l’exposition

La Mongolie entre deux ères présente un aperçu de l’histoire mongole et du contexte politique du voyage de l’opérateur dans la Mongolie au début du XXe siècle.

Les missions européennes en Mongolie, une longue histoire : de nombreux voyageurs explorèrent les routes de la soie, du moyen-âge à nos jours. Sont mis en avant : du 13e au 19e siècle, les voyages dans l’empire mongol, en 1909 : la mission d’Henry Bouillane de Lacoste « Au pays sacré des anciens Turcs et des Mongols », en 1912-1913 : le voyage de M. Passet, en 1931-1932 : « l’épopée de la Croisière Jaune » et une mission d’aujourd’hui : la mission archéologique française en Mongolie
La société mongole du début du XXe siècle : description de la société mongole, de sa vie quotidienne et de ses traditions vestimentaires spectaculaires notamment à travers les aspects de la vie nomade, le vêtement comme marqueur social d’une société extrêmement codifiée et un peuple de cavaliers dont on dit encore aujourd’hui qu’ils vivent, naissent et meurent à cheval…
Ourga, 1913 : suite à la chute, en 1911, du « dernier empereur » de la dynastie des Qing, l’ancienne province mandchoue de Mongolie-Extérieure proclame son indépendance. C’est son chef religieux, un grand maître tibétain de l’école bouddhiste des Gelugpa, qui devient le chef de l’État. Son lieu de résidence : Ourga, devient la capitale. Cette section permet de découvrir les transformations de la ville, du campement à celle-ci et l’importance de ce lieu en tant que centre de pèlerinages et capitale spirituelle et temporelle.
Une zone sous influences : en 1912-1913, les deux Mongolie sont « entre deux ères » : pour la Mongolie-Intérieure, l’ère mandchoue s’achève et laisse place à l’ère chinoise. La Mongolie indépendante, elle, prend la Russie pour modèle jusqu’à devenir, en 1924, une République populaire. Les convictions anticléricales et les ambitions en termes de rénovation urbaine de ce nouveau régime conduiront à la destruction de la grande majorité des monuments présentés dans l’exposition.

Ancient Bronzes of the Asian Grasslands

Five spectacular shows kick off the Holter Museum of Art’s 25th anniversary year, including a centerpiece exhibit “Ancient Bronzes of the Asian Grasslands from the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation.”

Crafted by artisans of the Asian steppes, the 85 ancient bronzes on display were once used by horsemen, chieftains and shamans as far back as 3,400 years ago.
An opening reception for all five exhibits (see related articles) is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, at the Holter. And a talk by the curator of the Sackler Foundation, Trudy Kawami, is at 5:30 p.m. across the street from the Holter at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

The Asian steppes, encompassing a vast region stretching from east of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia to the far western grasslands of Kazakhstan beyond the Caspian Sea, are home to nomadic tribes with a rich and ancient culture. Skilled herders and animal breeders, they were the first to domesticate the wild horse, said Holter Curator Yvonne Seng. It was these nomadic herdsmen and horsemen who guided trade caravans along the famous Silk Road linking Asia to Europe. “They controlled transportation of goods, but also transportation of information,” she said. It was a major route of cultural exchange. Among the exhibit items are cauldrons used by shamans for mixing mind-altering herbs, which would later gave rise to European legends of magic cauldrons. The shamans inhaled the fumes of the drugs and entered ecstatic, trance-like states to contact animal and human spirits and the forces of nature. There’s also a spoon, adorned with graceful bird-shapes, used for measuring sacred herbs; decorative belt buckles in the form of yaks or felines attacking deer; ornate knives; and a sword with an ibex handle. “Some of the items would have belonged to chieftains and were buried ceremonially,” said Seng. “Some were used for personal adornment.” Accompanying the exhibit is a slideshow of faces and places of the Asian grasslands. “The topography is very similar to Montana,” said Seng, as is their love for horses. “I think it’s a perfect fit,” said Seng of the show, “both culturally and artistically. There’s an affinity with what we have here.” In fact, in the languages of the Asian steppes, the word for God, “Tangri,” translates as “the great blue sky,” said Seng. And the Mongolian word for horse, “Takh,” means holy. “Montana and the Asian steppes share a passion for horse culture and a love of the wide open sky.... These two passions — horses and the wide open — link the work of ancient horsemen to contemporary regional artists.” The other Holter exhibits include: life-size clay sculptures by Wanxin Zhang, “A Ten Year Survey”; “Horse and Rider” a joint exhibit by Montana artists John Buck and Deborah Butterfield; “Shifting Perspectives,” a photo-and-essay exhibit of China by Missoula photographer Dudley Dana and writer Candace Crosby; and “Invite Your Demons to Tea,” a series of Tibetan-inspired ceramic works by Helena artist Valerie Hellermann. The Holter show of the Ancient Bronzes is a rare opportunity for not only Helenans but people of the whole Western region to see these artworks, most of which date from 1300 B.C. to 200 A.D., said Seng. The exhibit made only one previous trip West, and this is its first visit to the Rocky Mountain region. It’s also traveled to Greece, Poland, Europe and the East Coast. “These pieces were collected by four missionary families in the early 20th century,” said Seng. Sackler, a research psychiatrist and art collector, purchased them, bringing together over 1,000 pieces of art. He also established a foundation to make his art collection available to the general public. He once said, “Great art, like science and the humanities, can never remain as the possession of one individual, creator or collector. ... great art and all culture belongs to all humankind.” “It’s a huge honor,” said Seng, to host the exhibit. It’s also a huge gift. The foundation has waived the typical $45,000 exhibit fee because of its commitment to show the items in rural areas where people might not otherwise have an opportunity to see them. The Holter paid for transportation and the cost of building its own exhibit cases, which are specially designed to allow air to circulate freely. This protects the bronzes from “off-gassing” that produces moisture, causing the beautiful but damaging blue-green patina on bronze. “It’s exciting, it’s really exciting to have all these exhibits together,” Seng said. They speak powerfully of Asia’s historic influence on art, but also provide fresh inspiration for contemporary artists. “What more can I say. It will be a feast for the eye. I think it will be a great celebration for the 25th.”

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

No excavation plans for Wu Zetian's tomb

The Qianling Mausoleum Management Office on Thursday repudiated a wide spreading rumor that the government was considering the large scale excavation of Empress Wu Zetian's tomb, saying it was "sheer fiction," Huashang Daily reported. Chen Yande, vice director of the office, told the newspaper that the excavation of the tomb will not be put on the agenda within at least the next 50 years. Previous reports originated from a weekly publication said the time was ripe to open up the tomb rooms since archeologists have accurately detected their locations. They suggested the possibly broken ancient structures and relics were in urgent need of repairs. The reports said the government could also use the opportunity to develop the vast western region and boost the province's local tourism by attracting additional 5 million visitors every year. "The bureau did invite the Tsinghua University in 2011 to design a 20-year plan of the scenic spot development, and the plan has initially passed the appraisal of experts," Chen said. "But some people might probably have quoted [that information] out of context and misunderstood." Zhao Rong, director of the provincial cultural relics protection bureau, was doing research at the tomb site Wednesday. He clarified the report by saying "the current top priority task of the bureau is to preserve the integrity of the tomb site and maintaining the environment of surrounding areas." Qianling Mausoleum Museum Chairman Fan Yingfeng added that the museum had never discussed the excavation of the tomb with departments of cultural relics.

About the Qianling Mausoleum

Built in the year 684 and sitting 80 kilometers northwest of Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, Qianling is the tomb of both Emperor Li Zhi of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and his wife Wu Zetian, the only empress in Chinese history who reigned for 50 years. Qianling is the only ancient tomb in China that contains the remains of multiple emperors. In the past 1,200-odd years, there were numerous attempted robberies of the tomb, including 17 large-scale ones, which all reportedly ended in failure and thus added an air of mystery to the still-intact Tang Dynasty tomb. Qianling was listed as one of the historical relics under state-level protection in 1961. Applications to open up the tomb have never been approved by the Chinese government.

From: China.org.cn

China offers S.Lanka help to find Silk Route wrecks

COLOMBO — Chinese authorities are seeking permission to explore Sri Lanka's coastline for possible Chinese ship wrecks from the ancient Silk Route era, an official said Wednesday. Sri Lanka, an Indian Ocean island, was a key trading post along the ancient Silk Route which saw silk, spices and handicrafts travel by road and sea between Asia and Europe. The seas around the island's southern port of Galle are known to have at least 75 ancient ship wrecks, of which 25 have been well documented. The unsolicited offer by Science Foundation of China to deploy experts to look for vessels along Sri Lanka's coast was under consideration, Director General of Archaeology Senarath Disanayake told AFP. He said, however, that the Chinese had asked to keep half of all antiquities brought up from the ocean bed -- a condition Sri Lanka could not agree to. "They also want us to pay for a vessel to carry out the exploration and that is something we can't afford," Disanayake said. China is increasing its presence in Sri Lanka with the construction of a deep-sea port in the island's south as well as several other key infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka's immediate neighbour India has become sensitive about increasing Chinese influence on the island. Source: AFP

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Decoding Sogdian Funerary Art in China

Lecture:Decoding Sogdian Funerary Art in China: Politics, Religion, and Transculturation in the Sixth Century 
by Mandy Jui-man Wu, An Wang, Postdoctoral Fellow 
Location: CGIS South, Room S153, 1730 Cambridge Street, Harvard University

Some Sogdian merchants, craft workers, translators, and priests coming from Central Asia via the Silk Road, started to establish Sogdian communities in China around the third century CE. The newly excavated Sogdian tombs near Xi’an dating to the Northern Zhou period (557-581 CE) have led to a flurry of academic research. Dr. Wu will use the tomb of Kang Ye, a Zoroastrian priest, to show what Sogdian tombs can tell us about the society in which they lived. By examining the Chinese pictorial images decorating Kan Ye’s funerary furniture, which actually represent Zoroastrian death rituals, Dr. Wu will explore the political negotiation of cultural identity as a result of processes of transculturation in sixth-century China. Mandy Jui-Man Wu is currently an An Wang postdoctoral fellow at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. She received her PhD in art history from University of Pittsburgh in 2010. Her current research rethinks the issues of power, constructed identities, and transculturation through examining mortuary art in sixth-century tombs in Northern China. She has published several articles, discussing issues such as gender roles in late Neolithic mortuary practices, the centrality of exotica to visual displays in Sui tombs, and remaining Sogdians in Eastern Asia in the six century. She is currently working on a book manuscript titled “Art, Power, and Identities: Hybridity in Mortuary Art in Sixth-Century Northern China.”

International archaeology conference: Scholars for steps to preserve heritage sites

Islamabad: A four-day international conference on archaeology concluded with an emphasis on the need to undertake new studies and immediate steps to preserve endangered cultural heritages in the region.

Scholars, on the last day, talked about the Silk Route, Hindu and Sikh temples in Hazara and Islamic and Talpur period architecture.
Ravi Korisettar from Karnatak University in India chaired the morning session.

 The first presenter, John Mock from the University of California Santa Cruz in the USA, talked about history and culture of Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor, expanding on Aurel Stein’s descriptions. He presented an initial analysis of several new finds, including the site of Lien Yuen, which Stein discussed but was unable to locate. He also talked about Tibetan-style fort complexes and watch towers, inscriptions and numerous rock carvings that appear to represent the Silk Route caravan trade. He said these materials provide new information on the history and culture of Central Asia and the Silk Route, and underline an urgent need for thorough documentation and preservation of this globally significant heritage, said a handout issued by the organizers.

  Tahir Saeed from Federal Archaeology and Museums Department spoke about local and foreign influences on the iconography of Buddhist art in Korea. “The early formative stage of Korean-Buddhist culture and art is closely followed by earlier Chinese models which were developed from different sources starting from the Indian subcontinent,” he said.

  Ibrahim Shah from Hazara University presented his survey on Hindu Temples in Hazara, which mostly date back to the Sikh and the British periods. He said there is a dire need to study the architecture and decoration of these temples before they go into decay.

 Other scholars talked about the Islamic architecture of Swat, Talpur period architecture in Sindh, shrines, common features of the regional Islamic archaeology and illustrated manuscripts in National Museum of Pakistan. The conference also gave scholars a chance to interact with each other and youngsters from around the country. The conference concluded at noon. An excursion trip to Taxila for conference guests was held after the closing of the event.

 The four-day conference consisted of back-to-back sessions and discussions carried out by leading archaeologists and museum specialists from well-known universities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and the US. The conference was organised by American Institute of Pakistan Studies with support from the US embassy and the Government of Pakistan.

  Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2012.

An unrecognized photo of Aurel Stein

From: Chinese Manuscripts, a blog by Imre Galambos

Last week we went down for a few days to the south of Hungary and while there I wanted to see at a village called Gádoros, near Orosháza, the “museum” of Zsigmond Justh (1863-1894), a talented Hungarian writer who died too young to fulfill his early promise. He was a close friend of Lionel Dunsterforce (1865-1946), the later major-general, after whom R. Kipling modelled the character Stalky in his book Stalky and Co. (Dunsterville later used this name in the title of his own memoirs: Stalky’s Reminiscences, London: 1928.) Justh visited Dunsterville in 1892 in Mian Mir where the Englishman was stationed at the time. It is here that he met the young Aurel Stein who was working at the Oriental College in Lahore. Following their acquaintance, Stein wrote a number of very warm letters to Justh and in the following summer even visited him at his estate in Szenttornya, not far from Gádoros where his museum is today. Although Justh died the following year (1894), Stein and Dunsterville corresponded for decades (at the Hungarian National Library there are letters from Dunsterville to Stein from 1941). In the two small rooms of the museum (or rather, exhibition) there are lots of photographs and letters. Among the material related to his trip to India, there is a group photo where the bearded Justh sits on a chair, holding a tea cup on his knee. The caption reads, “With his friends in India — next to him is Lionel Dunsterville.” But on the left side, we can see the standing figure of the young Aurel Stein. This is a rare photo from this early period of Stein’s life, long before he became a celebrated explorer. The photo must date to December 1892, when Justh was visiting.

New discoveries in ancient Longyuanfu, east capital of the Bohai Kingdom

The Kraskino city-site is located in Kraskino Township in Russia’s southern Primorsky Territory, near the mouth of the Chukanov River, known as ancient Longyuanfu, the east capital of Bohai Kingdom. Since 1980, Institute of Far East History, Archaeology and Nationality Studies, the Far East Branch of Russia Science Academy has conducted years of survey and excavations. In recent years scholars from Japan and Korea have also attended excavations to the city walls and the inside remains. According to the agreement with its Russia partner, Institute of Far East History, Archaeology and Nationality Studies, the Far East Branch of Russia Science Academy, Jilin Provincial Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relic has conducted 20-day’s survey to the city-site since September 2011. Before, the Russia side had explored it wholly with electromagnetic sensing techniques, which provided reference for this excavation. The north (Area I) and southeast (Area II) parts of the site were selected to be further explored, with an drilling area totaled 4000 square meter.

The drilling exploration yielded 7 building remains, 4 serious-destroyed or unclear wall segments, and 2 ash pits from an earlier period. Remain 1 at the southwest of Area I is a rectangular stone-walled structure built on the ground, measuring 20 m long from east to west and 11 m wide from south to north, orientation 224°. There are three probable column base remains in the middle of the area, which are arranged in a line parallel with the wall. Each of them is built with irregular stones, measuring 1 m wide and 1.5 m long. Remain 3 in the middle of Area I is a rectangular structure built on the ground, with the west wall measuring 4.5 m long and 0.5 m wide, the remaining north wall 8.1 m long and 0.5 m wide, the remaining south wall 1.8 m long and 0.5 m wide, orientation 211°. Remain 5 in the north of Area I is another rectangular structure built on the ground, measuring 9 m from west to east and 6.5 m from south to north and 0.5 thick. The ash pit is in a roughly round shape, with the fillings containing large amount of charcoal debris and a few of reddish scorched earthen grains. No other artifacts have been found. All artifacts are unearthed from drilling, which are mostly potteries including tiles and containers. There are 8 pieces of tiles, which are all plate tiles with undecorated convex surface and fabric-patterned concave surface, showing a typical characteristic of the Bohai Kingdom period. The tile’s earthen body, measuring 1.4-1.8 cm in thickness, is mixed with fine sands. Their surfaces are mostly in gray, some are in red, and a very few are in black. There are more than 20 pieces of ceramics, mostly made of fine earth and some mixed with fine sands. Those with a black surface are in the majority, gray and reddish brown potteries take the second. On some wares distinct traces from wheel-making could be seen. Judged from the rims, bottoms and shapes of the body, they originally could belong to large objects with a flat bottom like pots, urns and jars. In additional, other findings include ceramic rings, ceramic cake models, tricolor fragments and animal bones. Commissioned by the Russia side, Jilin archaeologists have drilling-explored the adjacent region of an uncovered tomb from the Bohai period, locating at 300 m west of the city-site. A stone-built tomb from the Bohai period has been found, which is in a nearly rectangular shape and built with irregular stones. The tomb’s walls are about 0.3-0.4 m wide and 0.6 m high. The tomb pit measures 4.7 m long from south to north and 2.6 m wide from west to east. The opening of the tomb is 0.5 m deep and the bottom is 1.2 m deep under the surface. The tomb chamber is 3.6 m long from south to north, 1.8 m wide from west to east and 0.6 m deep. The Kraskino city-site is the only known Bohai Kingdom city that has been excavated for years and is confirmed by the academic circle. But limited by the working progress the overall plane and structure of the site are unfortunately kept unclear. The drilling exploration provides abundant underground information, which is important for studying the city-site, and also provides us a possible way for resolving problems concerning the Bohai cities’ structures. (Translator: Tong Tao)

 Source: China Archeology/ Institute of Archeology/ Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

200 square meters of frescoes restored in Unesco-listed Mogao Grottoes

LANZHOU, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) -- About two hundred square meters of ancient frescoes found in the Mogao Grottoes in northwestern China's Gansu Province have been restored to their former glory in the past year, authorities confirmed on Monday. Experts explored new restoration techniques to save the degrading artworks both in caves and in the open air in the Dunhuang area of Gansu Province. They have made major achievements in rejuvenating the frescoes and protecting cultural heritage at the UNESCO World Heritage site, said Su Bomin, director of the protection institute of the Dunhuang Academy. In 2011, the restorers completed work on 125.91 square meters in 10 caves and another 109.1 square meters on the cliff, said Su. The 1,600-year-old Mogao Grottoes, or the Ancient Caves of 1,000 Buddhas, became China's first UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. They feature more than 2,000 colored sculptures and 45,000 square meters of frescoes in over 730 caves spread across about 1,600 meters along a hill. Although most of the caves have been and remain closed to the public, many of the frescoes were showing various levels of degradation including flaking, fading and detaching from the walls. The Dunhuang Academy has brought together a group of professionals specializing in fresco restoration and explored a new technique to protect the artworks, said Su. Source: Xinhua

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Theater, Life, and the Afterlife: Tomb Décor of the Jin Dynasty from Shanxi

Children Riding on Deer. Jin dynasty (1115–1234). H. 19 cm; W. 39 cm; D. 4.7 cm. Unearthed from Tomb 65H4M102, Houma city, Shanxi province.

Exhibition Theater, Life, and the Afterlife: Tomb Décor of the Jin Dynasty from Shanxi 
China institute, New York 
February 9 – June 17, 2012 

 NEW YORK, NY.- A new exhibition at China Institute Gallery will explore how theater and art intersected in the realm of the Chinese afterlife. The first exhibition in the U.S. to showcase the traditional folk art of brick carving, Theater, Life, and the Afterlife: Tomb Décor of the Jin Dynasty from Shanxi will be on view from February 9 through June 17, 2012. A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition. Since the 1950s and as recently as a few years ago, hundreds of brick tombs from the Jin dynasty (1115-1234) have been excavated in Shanxi province, located in the north central region of China. The exhibition presents more than 80 beautifully sculpted objects revealing a passion for theater and opera in this region during the Jin dynasty. One of the highlights, a re-creation of a newly excavated tomb, will enable visitors to see how thoughtfully prepared art patrons were for the afterlife. The ancient Chinese believed in an afterlife and imagined they would have needs similar to those they’d had in their lives on earth. Not only were the nobles buried in elaborate tombs filled with household goods, but the tomb décor in Shanxi province, like that of many tombs found in China , featured numerous references to entertainment. Famed for their brick carving, artists in Shanxi developed sophisticated techniques, creating lively sculptural images in the grey bricks, some of them painted with vibrant colors. The most intriguing of the dozens of intricate and dramatic brick carvings found in tombs dating back to the Song dynasty (960-1127) are those depicting theatrical performances.. The carvings serve as evidence of the popularity of the theater in ancient Shanxi, said to be the cradle of Chinese opera and drama, and illustrate two kinds of popular entertainment: Za Ju, formal performances of written plays; and San Qu, performances related to village festivals. Notes Willow Weilan Hai Chang, Director, China Institute Gallery, “The role of theater was crucial to ancient Chinese life in Shanxi. Not only was it an important form of entertainment, but it enlightened people’s lives, providing a moral education. One of the most important aspects of the Chinese value system developed by Confucius is filial piety, respect for parents and ancestors, which provided many story lines in ancient theater.” The most recent discovery of Chinese brick carvings occurred in July 2009, during the renovation of a staff residence for a chemical company in Jishan county in Shanxi province. When construction workers hit a brick wall while digging, they called the local museum. An excavation ensued, revealing an ancient tomb from the Jin dynasty (1115-1234) decorated with magnificent painted brick carvings surrounding one raised coffin bed that contained a couple of skeletons. Assembled for the first time above ground, the reconstructed tomb presented in Theater, Life, and the Afterlife will include 43 of these carved bricks. Adorned with floral motifs, strongman guardians, and the faces and figures of auspicious animals – all carved in brick and painted with colored pigments – the tomb is considered a treasured gem of ancient Chinese art. Among the performances depicted by carvings is the story of the Eight Immortals, who were considered to be actual people with special capabilities not unlike today’s superheroes. These seven men and one woman were the subjects of countless theatrical performances, stories, and poems. Considered one of the most famous of the eight, Lü Dongbin, an actual historical figure, was a well-known Taoist master at the end of the Tang dynasty. Worshipped as a deity, he appears in many legends. Lü was said to have had a youthful look when he was more than a hundred years old – and had such a quick pace that he could travel hundreds of Chinese miles (known as li, about 1,640 feet) in a single moment. Tieguai Li, another of the eight, represents the most dramatic story of reaching immortality: his body was accidentally cremated when it was still in spiritual transience. Thus, Li had to inhabit the body of a homeless man who had just died of starvation. Fortunately, Laozi, the founder of Taoism, provided him with magical medicines, and he was able to care not only for himself but also for the poor , traveling to help them with a gourd full of medicine on his back. Another fascinating story told by the bricks concerns Meng Zong who was worried about his ill mother who craved bamboo shoots in winter. Meng wandered the bamboo forest, discouraged by the impossibility of the request. However, filial piety moved heaven and earth, and bamboo shoots miraculously emerged from a crack in the ground. Meng brought them home and cooked them in a soup for his mother, who subsequently recovered from her illness.

A Riverside Scene At Qingming Festival

A Riverside Scene At Qingming Festival - 清明上河图
by Qiu Ying of the Ming Dynasty

Silk Scroll Colors Filled in Sketches Hand Scroll Longtitudinal 31 cm Horizontal 1346 cm 

Author / Editor: (明)仇英 绘 (Ming-Dynastie) Jiu Ying (Künstler)
ISBN: 978-7-80663-624-4, 9787806636244
Cathay Book Shop - 中国书店
Language: bilingual Chinese-English

Qiu Ying, was born in Zhengde’s year or late Hongzhi’s year of the Ming Dynasty, and died in the 31st year of Jiajing of the Ming Dynasty (1552). His alternative name was Shizhou and he styled himself as Shifu or Shifu. He was of a native of Taicang, Jiangsu province, and later moved to Wuxian County of Jiangsu province (Suzhou today). Qiu Ying was neither a descendant of an eminent family nor a son of a scholarly family. His childhood was not one cultivated among celebrities or gentlemen, and he had no experience of a successful candidate in the highest imperial examinations. He was obliged to discontinue his studies as a boy and once practiced as lacquer man. As far as his lot and experience were concerned, it seemed that Qiu Ying was not qualified to be ranked among the “Four Famous Artists of Ming Dynasty” together with Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming and Tang Yin; however, after we had a review of the works he left, we would feeld that he was fully deserved such an honor. Qiu Ying’s A Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival is an imitation of A Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan of the Northern Song Dynasty. Zhang Zeduan’s A Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival is an immortal masterpiece, an art treasure in China’s art history. It is a painting reflecting the prosperity and lively scenes at the Qingming Festival in Bianliang (present-day Kaifeng in Henan Province), the capital city of the Northern Song Dynasty. Broad in scale and well composed, this painting depicts more than 550 people, more than 60 deomestic animals of various kinds, more than 20 wood boats, as well as many kinds of houses and buildings, carts and sedan chairs and etc. The rich content in this painting is rare in the paintings from the previous dynasties. However, what is hard to come by and particularly valuable is that every figure, scene and detail are reasonably arranged and well composed, complicated and diverse but not in disorder. Undoubtedly all the later imitators will find it a difficult and huge project to imitate it. Qiu Ying’s A Riverside Scene at the Qingming Festival, comparing with Zhang Zeduan’s, is actually a work of his own creation, for it has assumed considerably great variations in structure, circumstances and artistic features, in other words, it has made significant changes and improvements to Zhang Zeduan’s A Riverside Scene at the Qingming Festival. As described in the painting, Suzhou, named Wu in ancient times, was the capital of Wu Kingdom early in the Spring and Autumn Period. The painter begins the painting from the scene of the suburban area of Suzhou along the waterway, and then paints through Hong Bridge to the city access and finally the western suburban area. He was finished at a scene of overwater pavilions. The whole painting is 9.8 meters long, two times longer than the one painted by Zhang Zeduan, and the painting has the customs, features and human activities in Suzhou city and the South of Ming Dynasty more than 400 years ago loom large in front of the audience. There are mountains, cities, streets, bridges, rivers, piers, passersby, shops, boats, drama platforms, parade grounds, and also there are scenes such as wedding, banquet, gathering, farmland working, performance, dealing, fishing, fortune-telling and the like. This is true reappearance of Suzhou as the economic and cultural center of the Southeast China. The painter makes fully use of the characteristics of the dispersedly points perspective of the Chinese painting, utilizing the organic combination of highlighted scenery to deduce a lively drama without sound. The center of the volume is the prosperous street spots of Suzhou, the painter starts to describe the quiet village, which is similar in essence to the structure of A Riverside Scene at the Qingming Festivalby Zhang Zeduan of Northern Song Dynasty. The whole volume is naturally sectioned by mountains, river, ramparts and bridges. Its structure not only reflects the real physical geography and environment of Suzhou, but also blends the innovative conception of the painter. Furthermore, the painter has unique ideas for design of scenes and treatment of the details. 2,2000 people described in the picutre, including men and women, the old and the young, the four callings. You can tell the identity of each one of them by their action, expression, clothes and tools with no duplication. The simple and strong clothes lines reflects the action of figures through the density and turns of the lines, and are dotted with different colors in accordance with the identity, age and sex of figures. The locations of the buildings are skilfully arranged. There are many kinds of buildings, such as official departments, shops, firms, platforms and towers. The painter uses the combination of far and near, large and small, virtual and facture expression techniques, which clearly reflects the style and features of the city at that moment and on basis of which the painter can easily arrange certain scenes with certain kinds of people. The ramparts are reflected by realism techniques with clear description of their sunny-side and shaded-side, front and back transitions. … Qiu Ying, poorly-born but talented representative of Chinese ancient professional painters, creates A Riverside Scene at the Qingming Festival which truly reflects the customs, features and human activities of Suzhou four hundred years ago, creates varieties of artistic images and shows omnipotent realism techniques. It is not only a gigantic masterpiece of genre painting marking the transition of Chinese painting history, but also a historic painting with precious value on academic research. Judging from the style reflected by the painting, it is created when Qiu Ying was about more than 40 years old, living as a guest in the residence of Xiang Yuanbian.