Chinese Art


Bodhisattva Head

Bodhisattva Head

Bronze, Shanxi Province, China

Late Ming Dynasty (1600-1644 AD)

This Bodhisattva head was one of the first donations to the National Museum by Albert Bender. The dealer involved in acquiring it for Bender was Henry H. Hart of Oriental Arts, San Francisco. Much detail is given by Hart as to the object’s background and is of great interest in describing the tumultuous state of Chinese society in the aftermath of the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911: ‘The Bronze head... was found in a small town in Shanxi Province when the temples were destroyed at the order of Feng Yu-hsiang in 1927, and brought to Peking. The head belonged to a statue, several of which stood on the altar of the temple.’ Feng Yu-hsiang (1882-1948) was a Chinese general who held various military positions under the Qing Dynasty (up to 1911). Eventually he supported the Nationalists, becoming minister of war and vice-chairman of the Executive Yuan (Council) at Nanjing in 1928.DB:1932.22

Daoist Priest’s Robe

Daoist Priest's Robe

Silk with gold thread, China

17th/18th century

When this robe was acquired by the National Museum in 1932 it was believed to be a Lama Priest robe dating to the reign of Kangxi (1662-1722), and associated with the Abbot of the main Tibetan Buddhist temple in China, the YongHeGong in Beijing. It is now more correctly to be identified as a first-degree Daoist priest’s robe. Unlike Buddhism, Daoism originated exclusively within China as a philosophy about 500 BC. In several ways both Daoist and Buddhist temples and their artefacts, such as incense burners and statuary are similar, which can hamper identification.

The decorative motifs on Daoist vestments aimed to produce celestial order through the inclusion of astral symbols that linked the earth to the cosmos. On the back of this robe symbols for the sun, moon and stars surround Heaven, which is depicted as a multi-storied tower encircled by gold discs that represent stars. Lower down are placed four gate-like structures representing the four cardinal points (directions) of the world. Among the waves at the bottom are animals related to Daoism that include deer, crane, tortoise, snake, monster fish (ao) and dragons.

The priest who wore this robe would have become a central focus of ritual, believed to promote harmonious relations with heaven and stability on earth.DB:1932.108

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