Return of Buddha. Masterpieces of Chinese Art
from Chinese Museums
The exhibition in the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace has been timed to coincide with the Year of China in Russia. Three Chinese museums are participating in the exhibition including the Qingzhou City Museum, Tianjin City Museum, and Shandong Provincial Museum.
The first references of the spread of Buddhism in China are half-legendary in their nature and date back to the 1st century A.D. This is when the first missionary and translator of Buddhist texts came from India to China. He was followed by others - natives of Kashmir, India, and the Western World as Central Asia was then referred to.
The exposition represents 72 items, consisting of sculptures, paintings and porcelain illustrating the three most significant Chinese art forms.
The first part of the exhibition shows Buddha sculptures dating to the late 5th to the early 6th century A.D. from archaeological sites near Qingzhou.
Statues were found in the west of Qingzhou in 1996 and, while most of them were made of local limestone, some of them were marble and granite and a few were clay, metal, and wood. All but a few statues were gilded, painted in red, green, blue, black and white, as well as shades of ochre. The finding of four hundred statues, whole and fragmented, filled the gap in the history of Buddhist art and changed our understanding of medieval traditions in Chinese sculpture.
There are several groups of sculptures represented at the exhibition: sculptures from the Northern Wei Dynasty, works from the transitional period from the Northern Wei Dynasty to the Eastern Wei Dynasty and Eastern Wei, the period of transition from Eastern Wei to Northern Qi and those of the Northern Qi Dynasty.
Statues dating from the mid 5th to the early 6th century had such typical features as elongated proportions, sloping shoulders, thin faces, open eyes, and high ushnishas (bumps at the top of the head symbolising an enlightened being). The style of sculptures in the mid-to-late 6th century was quite different including broad square shoulders, round and, occasionally, square rugged faces, flat and round ushnishas, half-opened or closed eyes. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas' loose draping garments with typically raised hem edges on statues of the Northern Wei Dynasty tended to follow body contours during the next period - under the Northern Qi Dynasty. The drapes instead of being carved out in high relief were reproduced by fine engraving and sometimes by painting. The sculpture of Northern Qi was heavily influenced by the Indian Mathura art of the Gupta period.
The second part of the exhibition demonstrates traditional silk and paper paintings from the collection of Tianjin Museum. Chinese painting used such materials as silk, paper, Chinese ink, and water-soluble paints. Traditional paintings were scrolled horizontally or vertically.
The ten scrolls represented in the exposition date from the 14th to 17th centuries and demonstrate diverse techniques, various schools, and styles of painting. Most of the paintings date back to the Ming period (1368-1644).
The leading painting trends of Southern China developed in schools of Suzhou and Hangzhou. Artists from Suzhou, the cultural and artistic capital of the Southern China, belonged to the Wu School. The exhibition shows works by the head of the school Wen Zhengming (Spring Clouds in Jianpu) and by his students and followers. The Zhe School of Hangzhou, in contrast to the Suzhou, typically followed the artistic tradition of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Artists of the Zhe School tended towards monumental art; among them were Lan Ying and Chen Hongshou.
The exhibition represents nearly all painting styles including the portrait of landscape painter Wang Shimin by Zeng Jing.
Finally, the third section of the exposition covers ceramic and porcelain ware from the 12th to 20th centuries, which come from the Tianjin Museum. Porcelain painting often replicates plots used in scroll painting - mythological characters, historical scenes and landscapes. Sometimes the surface of a vessel is covered with glaze runs creating the impression that there were shades of one or more similar colours changing from one to another. Among popular styles in scrolls and porcelain paintings are "flowers and birds", as well as bamboo images.
The exposition includes an unusually designed vessel with a dragon, dated back to the Yuan period (13th to 14th century). Two vessels from Jingdezhen, one of them with the Three Winter Friends painted in red and the other one with a dragon, which are considered to be unique.
The work of the renowned master, He Chaozong, of the Dehua pottery in Fujian Province is represented by his best sculpture - the seated Bodhisattva Guanyin.
The exhibition was organised by the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation, the Federal Agency of Culture and Cinematography, the State Hermitage Museum, and State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO in partnership with the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China, State Administration for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of China, Tianjin City Museum, Shandong Provincial Museum, and Qingzhou City Museum.
A coloured illustrated catalogue (Slavia, 2007) has been published for the exhibition. The exhibition curator is Kira Samosyuk, a research assistant at the Oriental Department of the State Hermitage Museum.