During a behind-the-scenes tour for the media, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery officials show how photographers create three-dimensional images of objects. (Kate Patterson/For The Washington Post)
Photographer John Tsantes had placed the “Seated Princess” — an opaque watercolor and gold painting that is part of the famed Islamic collection of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery — on his table and focused the cutting-edge digital camera mounted overhead. And in the split-second it took for the camera’s shutter to close, the museum completed a multi-year effort to digitize its 40,000-item collection.
The 400-year-old artwork was the last of works owned by the Smithsonian’s Asian art museums to be digitally recorded. The images go online Jan. 1, making this boutique Smithsonian the first of the franchise to share its entire collection with a global audience.
The milestone is especially gratifying to director Julian Raby, an early adopter of digital photography and an advocate of the Internet’s power to transform museums.
“It’s part of the democratization of art,” Raby said. “John began what was the Smithsonian’s first digital photography studio, so it’s very nice that we are also the museum that is the first to digitize its whole collection.”
Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler galleries, stands next to an image of the last item in the collections that the museums will digitize. The entire collections will go online beginning Jan. 1. (Kate Patterson/For The Washington Post)
Raby said the technology pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a museum because it allows for unrestricted study and enjoyment of the collection. Next month’s release will include at least one image of each work — the majority in high-resolution — and the collection will be searchable and largely downloadable for non-commercial use.
Some of the galleries’ most popular items will be available for download as computer and smartphone backgrounds.
Raby doesn’t worry that putting the collection online will mean a reduction in visitors. In fact, he predicts the exact opposite.
“We strive to promote the love and study of Asian art, and the best way we can do that is to free our unmatched resources,” he said. “I think it will intensify interest, and that will lead to more visitors.”
Courtney O’Callaghan, director of digital media and technology, said the last item was carefully chosen. A composite design featuring a woman in a robe surrounded by interlocking figures, it illustrates the value of the project: although aesthetically and historically important, the work attributed to Muhammad-Sharif Musawwir is virtually unknown.
“About 78 percent of the collections have never been displayed. Now the public can see them, and in some cases, see them better,” O’Callaghan said.
To illustrate the idea, Tsantes tapped the computer keyboard and a section of the approximately 7-by-12-inch work exploded on the screen, the colors intense, the figures clear.
Cory Grace, the rights and reproductions coordinator and a digital assistant at the Freer and Sackler galleries, pulls a transparency from the files in the museum’s photo lab. (Kate Patterson/For The Washington Post)
The technology allows the museum to standardize colors, O’Callaghan said. Each image is photographed next to a color bar with different hues numbered and therefore measurable. This removes the guesswork from the printmaking.
“It’s instant, it’s precise. And we have total control,” she said.
It took many years and 6,000 staff hours to complete the collection. The museum’s three photographers usually completed between 100 and 200 objects a week. Museum officials didn’t calculate the cost of the effort; they said it was integrated into the regular work of the museum for many years, and impossible to estimate.
Some of the most difficult items — including large textiles and furniture and extremely heavy sculptures — were only digitized recently, Tsantes said. Termed “the problem children,” these items required multiple people to set up the shot, or that the camera had to be mounted high over the works (creating safety issues should it fall).
“We always said we’ll do that later, but now is later,” he laughed.
Although at least one image from every item in the collection will be posted online, the work of the photography studio isn’t over. The museum continually acquires new work, and those items will be added to the online collection.
“This isn’t the end of the work, this is the end of the backlog,” O’Callaghan said.
In addition, the staff is working with new technology. They are trying to create 360-degree images of every three-dimensional artwork. As an example, the staff displayed a Korean ceramic pitcher. Still images were stitched together to create a short video panorama of the piece. In this way, the online viewer can get a better view of the work than a visitor to the museum can, O’Callaghan said.
Raby envisions new research and even new artwork will result from the effort, fulfilling the museum’s basic mission of preserving and sharing its masterpieces
“Over the next few years, we’ll figure out how we dive deeper,” he said.
Peggy McGlone joined the Washington Post in 2014 as its local arts reporter. Prior to that, she covered the arts for The Star-Ledger in New Jersey for more than a decade.
The first encounters between the Islamic world and Tibet took place in the course of the expansion of the Abbasid Empire in the eighth century. Military and political contacts went along with an increasing interest in the other side. Cultural exchanges and the transmission of knowledge were facilitated by a trading network, with musk constituting one of the main trading goods from the Himalayas, largely through India. From the thirteenth century onwards, the spread of the Mongol Empire from the Western borders of Europe through Central Asia to China facilitated further exchanges. The significance of these interactions has been long ignored in scholarship. This volume represents a major contribution to the subject, bringing together new studies by an interdisciplinary group of international scholars. They explore for the first time the multi-layered contacts between the Islamic world, Central Asia and the Himalayas from the eighth century until the present day in a variety of fields, including geography, cartography, art history, history of science and education, literature, hagiography, archaeology, and anthropology.
Victoria and Albert Museum Recreating a figure from a Chinese painting in the gongbi style. Gongbi paintings are characterised by meticulous brushwork and highly coloured palettes.
Chinese ink is made in a solid form, and needs to be ground and mixed with water. A full-size line drawing, known in Chinese as huago, is made on paper with a brush and ink. The outline of the figure is carefully drawn.
A piece of silk is selected for its weave and texture. Raw silk is non-absorbent, so it needs to be treated in a process called sizing. A solution of glue and alum is used to make the ink pigments stick to the silk. The ratio of glue and alum must be carefully balanced. Too much alum makes the surface difficult to paint, but too little means that pigments will not adhere properly. The solution is spread with a flat brush. The silk is stretched over a board or stretcher with paste. When the treated silk has dried, it is ready for painting.
The silk is placed over the drawing and the lines are carefully traced with ink. The artist can change the weight of the line by varying the pressure. Because silk is thin, colour needs to be built up through a process called tuose. An even layer of paint is applied to the back of the work. White pigment is usually used. Darker pigment is used for the dark areas.
After the paint on the back has dried, the front is ready to be painted. First a base layer is painted. Colour pigments are prepared one by one. The painter carefully fills in the smaller areas. Two brushes are used to create colour washes. Layers of light wash are applied over painted areas until the artist gets the right tone. The process of building up colour and creating the right tone is painstaking and can take a long time. Fine details such as facial features and clothing patterns can now be added. The figure's outline is accentuated with black ink or colour for the final time.
26 October 2013 - 19 January 2014. Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 - 1900 brings together the finest examples of Chinese painting from the beginning of the 8th to the end of the 19th century, from small-scale intimate works by monks and literati through to scroll paintings over 14 metres long, many of which have never before been seen in the UK.
Chinese emperors guaranteed male successors by taking multiple wives, in some cases hundreds and even thousands. Women Shall Not Rule offers a fascinating history of imperial wives and concubines, especially in light of the greatest challenges to polygamous harmony—rivalry between women and their attempts to engage in politics. Besides ambitious empresses and concubines, these vivid stories of the imperial polygamous family are also populated with prolific emperors, wanton women, libertine men, cunning eunuchs, and bizarre cases of intrigue and scandal among rival wives.
Keith McMahon, a leading expert on the history of gender in China, draws upon decades of research to describe the values and ideals of imperial polygamy and the ways in which it worked and did not work in real life. His rich sources are both historical and fictional, including poetic accounts and sensational stories told in pornographic detail. Displaying rare historical breadth, his lively and fascinating study will be invaluable as a comprehensive and authoritative resource for all readers interested in the domestic life of royal palaces across the world.
This survey of the role of women in early Chinese dynastic history succeeds in elucidating patterns over many periods. University of Kansas professor McMahon relies on a variety of sources, including official histories offering a “correct” view of events and unofficial histories, which provide more salacious details. From these, McMahon pieces together brief vignettes, each usually a few paragraphs, about empresses and consorts through the ages. The author acknowledges difficulties with veracity, but aims to document the qualities ascribed to both praise-worthy and poorly-behaved imperial women rather than determine precise historical accuracy. An upright wife is, above all, lacking in jealousy while wives that are vilified are described as “wanton.” Highlights of the book include the story of Wu Zeitan, who described herself as emperor. The book includes scenes of torture, mild pornography, and acts of self-sacrifice. Examples presented over the time span covered here—1250 B.C.E. to 1125 C.E.—may overwhelm general readers, but the book will likely appeal to Chinese history scholars. (Publishers Weekly)
In this book, written with conscientiousness and compassion, Keith McMahon illustrates early Chinese dynastic history from a very unique perspective. Rather than discussing emperors and heroes as in mainstream historiography, Woman Shall Not Rule focuses on imperial ladies—empresses and consorts—in the context of polygamist ancient China with scenes of self-sacrifice, torture and violence, and even mild pornography. . . .In addition to presenting an alternative narrative of Chinese history from about 1250 B.C.E. to 1125 C.E., the author also takes imperial polygamy as an approach to the study of sexual politics in China. . . .McMahon’s narratives of palace women in the context of the royal polygamist family offer many insights when rethinking the roles of imperial women in Chinese history. . . .In addition to scholars in Chinese history, the book could also attract general readers with its vivid accounts of historical women. (Women and Gender in Chinese Studies Review)
The reader will find here a treasure house of ideology, history, and lore about China’s highest-placed and most visible women, the empresses and concubines of China’s rulers, starting from the earliest times of the civilization. Denied formal access to political power and at times indifferently educated, a few palace women managed, for better or worse, to exert great political force. Every famous empress and consort known to history appears here, along with many others whom the author has rescued from obscurity. The women appear mainly as intimate participants in the rulers’ private lives, but some made their way into the public sphere as well, influencing policy, and, in a few cases, commanding the realm. Useful comparisons are made to royal and imperial households in other cultures. McMahon, an experienced scholar of China’s traditional fiction and gender relations, is especially well qualified to take up this ambitious project, one the China field has long needed. (John W. Dardess, University of Kansas)
China is set to spend more than 700 million yuan in an effort to revamp the Eastern Qing Tombs, a royal mausoleum complex from the country’s last imperial dynasty northeast of Beijing, a report said on Wednesday.
The Beijing Times reported that the mausoleum 125 kilometres northeast of Beijing had been severely damaged in two major looting incidents, and the wooden structure and coffins in some of the tombs had been left open to the elements, Wang Zhaohua, deputy director of the Administrative Bureau of Cultural Relics at the mausoleum, told the newspaper.
The restoration project will cover the tombs of eminent Qing emperors, such as Kangxi and Qianlong, and Empress Dowager Cixi, whose corpse was ravaged when a warlord ordered a looting of the complex in 1920s.
Wang said the empress’s corpse, which was discovered intact, had now turned mummified. Her coffin, which was made of Pheobe zhennan – a rare and extremely durable wood, sealed and painted with 49 layers – was designed to protect her body from decay, but had begun to deteriorate when looters forcefully opened the underground tomb and exposed it to outside temperatures and humidity.
The project will aim to create an environment with low oxygen levels to restrain bacterial growth in a bid to preserve the coffin.
Emperor Qianlong’s tomb is also at risk, suffering from leaks and flooding, Wang said.
The Eastern Qing Tombs are the largest and best preserved mausoleum complex in China, with five emperors, 15 empresses, 136 imperial concubines, three princes and two princesses of the Qing dynasty found buried there. The revamp of the mausoleums of Qing emperors and empress will cost more than ten million yuan each, according to Wang.
The complex was first looted on a large scale in 1928 by warlord Sun Dianying, who pretended that he was leading his army there to practice military manoeuvres. One team of tomb raiders blew up the entrance and doorways of the underground palace of Yuling, where the remains of Qing Emperor Qianlong were laid to rest. The raiders took away any object of value and pried open the coffins of the emperor, his two empresses and three imperial concubines, leaving their skeletons scattered around. Researchers are now only able to identify just one of the six corpses, as they were badly mixed.
Another group of soldiers opened the tomb of Empress Dowager Cixi. Robbers pulled her body from the tomb to reach jewels hidden under her corpse, and an imperial robe, shoes, socks and jewellery that she wore were all stolen, as well as a massive pearl put in her mouth to keep her body from decomposing. Even her undergarments did not survive and were removed in the raid.
The second looting occurred in 1946 during China’s civil war, where the complex was left almost unguarded. Only Xiaoling, the tomb of Emperor Shunzhi, was spared from looters, thanks to prevalent folk tales suggesting that the emperor was not buried there.
A crowd of people gather round a man on a horse, in an ancient stone relief that roars with life. Is this Christ entering Jerusalem? Or even a nativity scene – a wise man heading for Bethlehem perhaps?
In fact, it is an image of Prince Siddhartha setting out from his father’s palace. This masterpiece of Buddhist art was carved in Gandhara, on the borders of modern Pakistan and Afghanistan, some time between the second and fourth centuries AD. But like many other artworks from ancient Gandhara, it uncannily resembles early Christian art. Indeed, it is evidence of a fascinating encounter of east and west.
This is a time of year when we pay a lot of attention to Christian art, if only because nativity scenes look so, well, Christmassy. So here’s an unusual Christmas fact: 2,000 years ago, Buddhism led the way in religious art. It set out the power of sacred imagery and showed how art can deepen piety. Christianity soon took up the same idea of art as a religious powerhouse. But why do early Christian images, such as ivory nativity scenes, look so similar to the art of Gandhara ?
Works from ancient Gandhara in the V&A and the British Museum in London include reinterpretations of Greek myth, classically posed statues and imported bronzes. There is no doubting these Greek and Roman echoes in the Buddhist art of Gandhara. One portrait of a Buddhist monk in the V&A looks just like a Roman senator.
There was no contradiction between Buddhism and Greek philosophy. In fact, the ideals of Plato had a lot in common with the Buddhist search for enlightenment. Contact over hundreds of years had deepened such similarities.
Christianity, too, fed on classical art for its images. The style of Roman sarcophagi was adopted for Biblical scenes. Yet Christian art took centuries to find its true power. Buddhism was the first great religion to use art to win souls. It drew on classical sources to create something new, moving and profoundly beautiful. The greatest triumphs of Gandhara-style classicism were the colossal Buddhas at Bamiyan, made in the sixth century and destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.
But the deepest connection between Buddhist and Christian art is that they both tell stories. Gandharan reliefs tell stories from the life of the Buddha in pictures. The V&A, for instance, owns a work from Gandhara that depicts the birth of the Buddha. How’s that for a nativity?
In the season when Christian art gets looked at more than any other time, it is worth remembering that it is just part of a global continuum of religious art. Buddhism paved the way for the nativity scenes circulated at this time of year and, I believe, ultimately inspired them.
The Exhibition explores the years 1400 – 1450, a pivotal 50 year period that transformed China during the rule of the Ming dynasty.
In this film we hear from the exhibition’s co-curators Jessica Harrison-Hall, British Museum and Professor Craig Clunas, University of Oxford who lead through the exhibition room at a time demonstrating some the finest and most historically important objects ever made in China.
The exhibition features a range of these spectacular objects – including exquisite porcelain, gold, jewellery, furniture, paintings, sculptures and textiles. Many of the objects have only very recently been discovered and have never before been seen outside China.
The carefully selected objects in this exhibition shed new light on this important part of world history that is little known in Europe. China’s internal transformation and connections with the rest of the world led to a flourishing of creativity from what was, at the time, the only global superpower.
The film is chance to see how AHRC funded research has shaped and informed the exhibition from the outset and how the funding has facilitated international exchange and partnership working with 21 international lenders including 10 Chinese institutions.
The following institutions all loaned objectrs or material to the exhibition:
首都博物馆 Capital Museum
湖北省博物馆 Hubei Provincial Museum
南京市博物馆 Nanjing Municipal Museum
南京博物院 Nanjing Museum
中国国家博物馆 National Museum of China
故宫博物院 The Palace Museum
山东博物馆 Shandong Museum
上海博物馆 Shanghai Museum
山西博物院 Shanxi Museum
四川博物院 Sichuan Museum
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Board of Trustees of the Royal Armouries
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Musée Cernuschi, Musée des Arts de l’Asie de la ville de Paris
Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art
National Folk Museum of Korea 국립민속박물관
National Museum of Korea 국립중앙박물관
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Royal Artillery Historical Trust
Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst
The British Library
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Victoria and Albert Museum
Published on Oct 10, 2014
Curator Jessica Harrison-Hall introduces the British Museum’s collection which tells the history of the world for the world, with particular focus on ceramic works and the current BP exhibition Ming: 50 years that changed China at the British Museum 18 September 2014 – 5 January 2015
PESHAWAR: Archaeologists have discovered Buddhist sculptures and heads during the excavation in Haripur district.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa archaeology and museums directorate director Dr Abdul Samad on Friday said sculptures and heads dating back to second to fifth century AD had been discovered during excavation at Buddhist stupa known as Bhamala Buddhist Complex near Khanpur.
He said during excavation, precious coins of Kushan period were also found around the stupa.
Dr Samad said the Bhamala archaeological site had been declared national and world heritage site located near Khanpur dam.
He said the ruins dated back to fourth century BC.
“The ruins are situated near Khanpur dam. The stupa is cross-shaped and looks like an Aztec Pyramid,” he said.
The director said the Bhamala site was partially excavated in early 1930 by Sir Jan Marshal.
He said fresh excavation at the archeological site had been initiated by the Hazara University, Mansehra.
Dr Samad said during excavation done by archaeologists, conservators, diggers, and treasury hunters, mostly terracotta sculptures had been discovered.
He said a training and capacity building programme for students and field staffs of the directorate of archaeology and museums had initiated at the field training school (Bhamala) to inform archaeological excavators about the latest techniques and methods of excavation.
The director said more than 50 participants, including students of various educational institutions, took part in the training, which would continue for months at the field training school. He said the first batch had so far completed training.
“The leading foreign scholars and archaeologists belonging to United States and UK have offered to extend services in the training programme,” he said.
Dr Samad said the capacity building training programme lasted four-months in which more than 50 members of field staffs, mostly archaeologists, conservators, draftsmen, conservation assistants, photographers and students of archaeology from various educational institutions participated.
He said a survey had been initiated of different archaeological sites in Buner district.