SAMA Expands Chinese Art Collection With Additions Of Gilding And Jade

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The San Antonio Art Museum is expanding its already impressive collection of Chinese art with a handful of new acquisitions, he announced on June 29.

New pieces include an openwork golden crown and a golden plaque with a standing lion, both from the Liao dynasty (907-1125); a set of jade belt plates from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644); and a set of gilt silver hairpins adorned with Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) kingfisher feathers.

The new acquisitions are part of an ongoing effort to improve under-represented areas within the museum’s larger Asian art collection, which is already solid in ceramic. All pieces were purchased with funds provided by the Bessie Timon Endowment Fund.

“The works of art announced today capture the incredible artistry and craftsmanship of Chinese artisans throughout history, while highlighting the importance of these objects – as well as the images and materials that ‘they contain – for Chinese culture and society. Shawn Yuan, associate curator of Asian art, said in a statement. “We are delighted to enhance the museum’s Chinese art collections with these stunning works, which enhance our ability to share stories and develop understanding of Chinese material culture over time.”

The golden crown is a mortuary object for a noblewoman of the semi-nomadic Khitan people, who lived in northern China and present-day Mongolia in the 11th and 12th centuries. The domed cap is covered with chiseled floral volutes and surmounted by a lotus flower and a divinity who has now disappeared. On each of the attached standing “wings”, two glorious phoenixes, with widely spread wings and long tails, are positioned among the rushing clouds.

This crown is “an example of the luxurious lifestyle of the Khitan elite, who established the mighty Liao dynasty and controlled a huge landmass bordering Korea to the east and Central Asia to the west,” SAMA note.

The gilded bronze plaque with a standing lion is an example of the impressive craftsmanship of the Liao dynasty. The energetic lion, hammered in bas-relief, rises on its left hind leg while pushing the other forward. The lion’s broad chest rises and its massive head turns back as its flaming mane rises upwards. Beneath the bushy eyebrows, the lion’s eyes focus intensely on a flaming pearl.

The imagery has a Buddhist origin: the lion keeps the teaching of the Buddha while the flaming pearl represents the wisdom of the Buddha. Images of a lion with protective power are rarely seen on Liao’s other works in the museum’s collection.

The set of 18 jade plates is the first major jade work to enter the museum’s Chinese collection. Jade has been China’s most beloved gemstone since the dawn of its civilization, and these plaques were once attached to belts worn by nobles.

The rectangular plaques are carved in high relief with animated scenes of male figures teasing frolic lions with ribbons – an auspicious subject with a long history in Chinese art. The hardness of jade is only surpassed by that of diamonds. The delicate carvings on these plaques showcase the impressive craftsmanship of the jade sculptor.

The set of three golden silver hairpins is an exciting addition to SAMA’s collection of Chinese dragon dresses, embroidered brocade, shoes and jewelry – all items from the wardrobes of upper class families . The three hairpins are encrusted with kingfisher feathers, the colors of which are as brilliant as azurite, lapis, cobalt and turquoise. They are iridescent in the sun, creating a dazzling visual effect.

Kingfisher feathers were a luxury material used in hair adornments and crowns for thousands of years. The dominant image on each bobby pin is a stylized bat with foliated wings outlined in fine silver. Bats are considered auspicious because the word “bat” is pronounced in the same way as “chance” and “blessing”.


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