Sunday, 16 June 2013

A Silk Road saga

The sarcophagus of Yu Hong

Panel 5, middle of back wall (detail), Sui dynasty, 581–618, white marble, 96 × 101.7 × 12.7 cm, Shanxi Museum
In 1999 a white marble sarcophagus, unlike any previous discovery, was excavated in Taiyuan, the capital of China’s Shanxi province. It belonged to a Turkic-speaking central Asian man, Yu Hong, and his wife, who had been interred in 592 and 598 CE respectively.
This magnificent object in many ways exemplifies life along the famous Silk Road, with its multiethnic mix of traders, pilgrims, monks and envoys. From afar, it looks like a model of a Chinese building, but closer inspection reveals detailed carved or painted scenes of hunting, entertaining and religious worship totally foreign to Chinese traditions.
The exquisite panels of the sarcophagus are the focus of this exhibition, which also includes 16 other sculptures, figurines and ceramics from the tomb or from burials of the same period and province. Never exhibited in China, this display at the Gallery is only the third time the sarcophagus has been shown internationally.
The exhibition has been co-organised with the Shanxi Museum. It will be accompanied by a rich program of events, including a symposium.

This exhibition is in the Art gallery of NSW, Sydney

22 Aug – 10 Nov 2013

Free admission

The symposium had the following topics:

Symposium: A Silk Road saga

Reconsidering cultural interactions on the famed trade route

The discovery of the tomb of Yu Hong (533/34–92) in Taiyuan, Shanxi province in 1999 has demanded a fresh interpretation of the cultural interaction that occurred between China and the West due to the travel and trade along the Silk Road. While sharing a structure similar to many other tombs of the second half of the 6th century in north-central China, the carved and painted artwork on the marble sarcophagus of Yu Hong and his wife surprisingly shows no trace of Chinese motifs. The scenes of hunting, feasting, musical performance and domestic life owe more to Persian and Buddhist iconography.
The symposium provides fascinating background to the cultural intermingling along the Silk Road which gave rise to the golden age of ancient Chinese civilisation in the Tang dynasty.
*The lectures marked with an asterisk will be presented in Chinese with English translation.
Coffee and registration
The ‘Silk Roads’: melting pot of history
Edmund Capon, former director, Art Gallery of NSW
Huteng and huxuan: dances from the Silk Road introduced to China from the 6th to 10th centuries *
Professor Zhang Qingjie, director, Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology
Lunch and exhibition viewing
Glass and gold: the impact of cultural artefacts from the West on China *
Professor Qi Dongfang, School of Archaeology and Museology, Peking University
Two gods under the same roof: Zoroastrian and Buddhist representations on Yu Hong’s sarcophagus
Yin Cao, curator of Chinese art, Art Gallery of NSW
Concluding remarks
Professor David SG Goodman, FASSA, academic director, China Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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