Lotus-shaped bowls were relatively commonplace tableware in the Northern Sung dynasty, often used as vessels to warm alcohol, and can be seen laid out on the table in Sung Hui-tsung's piece Literary Gathering. These bowls were also popular in Korea at the time, and enjoyed popularity in that country's Koryo celadon. This picture shows a lotus bowl created from Ju celadon. (courtesy of the National Palace Museum)
After three years of renovation work on its main building, the National Palace Museum has at long last unveiled its much anticipated new look. To add to the impact of its reopening, on December 25, 2006, the museum launched the exhibition Grand View: Northern Sung Dynasty Painting, Calligraphy, Ju Ware and Sung Dynasty Rare Books, while February 4, 2007 will see the beginning of Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum After 250 Years.
The NPM has a rich collection of Chinese artifacts, while the British Museum boasts pieces from civilizations around the world, gathered from all corners of "His Majesty's dominions, on which the sun never sets." With the two museums joining forces for special exhibitions, this truly is a wonderful example of what can happen when East meets West.
According to historical records, Emperor Shizong (reigned 954-959 AD) of China's Later Zhou Dynasty once described the ideal shade of celeste blue porcelain glaze as "the color that springs forth when the rains have passed, the clouds have broken, and the sun shines through." Ju porcelain, first created in the early 12th century, was the chosen porcelain of the late Northern Sung emperors, due to the unusual elegance of its glaze, which was just as Shizong had described. And now, the astonishing beauty of Ju ware will brighten the cultural skies of Taiwan.
"The pieces on display in Grand View are of a level of rarity, uniqueness, and artistic value the National Palace Museum is unlikely to see on this scale again," said museum director Lin Mun-lee at the December 24th press conference for the exhibition. She also commented that the name of the exhibition--Grand View--was chosen to symbolize the grandness of the pieces on show, and the opportunity being given to the public.
With the Sung Dynasty nearly a millennium in the past, artifacts from the time are difficult to find. For the Ju ware specifically, the NPM negotiated with England's Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London University; Japan's Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka; and China's Henan Cultural Relics Administration to borrow extra pieces to supplement their own collection of 21 pieces of Ju ware and paraphernalia (of a total of fewer than 70 pieces worldwide). Doing so has enabled the museum to give a fuller impression of the status and impact of Northern Sung Ju ware on the development of Chinese ceramics.
Another special feature of this exhibition is group of "limited display" pieces, three national treasures available for display for no more than 40 days--Travelers among Mountains and Streams by Fan Kuan, Early Spring by Guo Xi, and Wind in the Pines amid Ten Thousand Valleys by Li Tang. From these iconic pieces visitors will be able see for themselves the growth and achievements of the Northern Sung's most prolific decades of traditional painting. From an artistic perspective, the Northern Sung period was a model of early Chinese creativity, not only in the three major traditional arts--calligraphy and painting, ceramics, and books--but throughout the artistic spectrum.
Sharing 250 years of collection
Beginning February 4th, the NPM will also be holding a joint exhibition with one of the world's top four museums, the British Museum, who have released 271 pieces for display in the NPM's Treasures of the World's Cultures exhibition, with 42 of them considered amongst their most precious pieces.
Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years is Taiwan's first such comprehensive exhibition of pieces from cultures and civilizations from around the world. The pieces range in origin from the Stone Age to the 20th century, from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to contemporary Europe, and come from all over Europe, Asia, Oceania, the Americas, and Africa. Art forms on display include sculpture, painting, jewelry, gold work, copper work, stonework, and ceramics.
In addition to such media attention-grabbers as ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, there are plenty of other impressive things on exhibit, such as a double-edged stone hand-axe from the Stone Age.
"Don't underestimate this kind of stone tool," says Fung Ming-chu, head of the NPM's Books and Documents Department. "Representing the development from simple rocks to crafted stone tools, these relics not only illustrate human evolution, but help lay out the development of prehistoric civilization. This particular piece of stone was crafted nearly 2 million years ago in Tanzania, and is not just a relic from one of mankind's earliest civilizations, but also one of the oldest and most significant pieces in the British Museum's collection."
At over 800 years old, the Lewis chessmen, from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, are another unmissable part of the exhibition. Each of these chess pieces was individually crafted, and each has a unique expression; they even served as the inspiration for the chess pieces in the Harry Potter novels. "The expressions on the Lewis chessmen are especially vibrant; if you look closely at the bishop, you can see he actually looks somewhat crestfallen," said Dr. Andrew Burnett, deputy director of the British Museum, during his visit to Taiwan to promote the exhibition.
With treasures of cultures Eastern and Western laid out at the National Palace Museum, a veritable banquet of history and culture awaits in Waishuanghsi, Taipei.
Grand View: December 25, 2006 to March 25, 2007 (some items in Painting and Calligraphy from the Northern Sung Dynasty will be changed on February 8, 2007)
Treasures of the World's Cultures: February 4 to May 27, 2007
Location: 221 Chihshan Rd. Sec. 2, Shihlin District, Taipei City 11143