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What's In Store: Asian Artwork

Bowl and cover, Canton Enamel, 18th century

Visitors to the What's In Store? gallery can explore Museum collections normally kept in storage. Read more about the wealth of Asian artefacts with shrines, lacquer, ivory, and enamel all featured, from Japan, China, Burma and India.

Japanese shrines, Bender Collection, Chinese ivories & lacquer

The term ‘Amidanyorai Zazo’ is used to designate the Japanese shrines as seen in this row. They were placed in the home and formed the focus of worship. In some cases they were beautifully gilded and set within compartments, which could be closed.

The Albert Maurice Bender (1866 - 1941) Collection of Far Eastern Art was donated to the Museum by Bender himself throughout the 1930s and is of significant international importance. This major donation was made in memory of his mother Augusta Bender and was given to the land of his birth, as he was born in Dublin. Bender made his mark on the city of San Francisco where he became an insurance broker, patron of the arts and trustee of Mills College, Oakland. The Bender Collection consists of T’angka paintings, woodblock prints, robes, jade, snuff bottles, ivories, pewter, ceramics, religious statuary, dolls, agate, rock crystal, glass, lacquer, soapstone and sculpture, some of which are shown.

Within this row can be found Cantonese enamelled metalwork, Chinese clay figures, carved rhinoceros horn, objects associated with the Confucian and Taoist religions and agalmatolite. Particular mention should be made of the Chinese ivories and lacquer. Indeed, contrast of design between these objects and their Japanese counterparts in Rows 9 and 12 is apparent, as Chinese ivory is characterised by its pierced effect.

Burmese Statuary, Japanese Lacquer

Buddhism was initially founded in India by Gautama Buddha (563 - 483 BC). The three main Buddhist beliefs are i) All things are ever changing. There is no ‘being’ only ‘becoming’; ii) Humans are present and ephemeral links in a chain of cause and effect called Karma; iii) Personal efforts must be made in order to remove the notion of individuality as the only means to ultimate salvation. The majority of the Buddha statuary in this row comes from Burma (present-day Myanmar) and is mainly of 19th-Century date. Gestures depicted in Buddhist statuary include the ‘Abhaya mudra’: gesture of re-assurance; the hand held up, palm outward, with fingers fully extended. The ‘Bhumisparsa mudra’ sees the Buddha touching the earth, calling on the earth goddess to bear witness to his right to sit beneath the tree of wisdom. The ‘Dhyana mudra’ depicts Buddha’s meditation, in which the palms of the hands are upwards with fingers extended, lying one on top of the other in his lap.

The Japanese decorative arts collection of the Museum numbers over 1,500 objects. The majority of these artefacts date to the Edo (1600 - 1868 AD) and Meiji (1868 - 1912 AD) periods. Two principal donors of Japanese material during the late 19th/early 20th Centuries were the Duke of Leinster and Mrs Thom. The Japanese lacquer on show consists mostly of inkstone cases/writing boxes, incense trays, pillows, letter boxes, food containers and comb boxes. Some techniques associated with lacquer of the 18th and 19th Centuries include: ‘Hiramaki-e’, decoration in low relief using only lacquer; the ‘maki-e’; technique involving the sprinkling of metal dust on a coat of wet lacquer, and ‘Takamaki-e’: relief design formed by modelling a combination of charcoal, clay and lacquer.

Tibet, Persia

The Tibetan material on show in this row consists of metalwork purchased from the city of Lhasa in 1904. In particular the prayer wheel inset with turquoise is a fine example of the subtlety of difference between Tibetan, Indian and Chinese design. Lamaism is the form of Buddhist belief, which is practised in Tibet. Organised under two priests known as Lamas, their remit is political as well as religious. The most important Lama is known as the Dalai Lama.

The Persian Collection of the Museum was formed as part of a concerted effort to display and interpret applied arts of the Indian subcontinent and traditionally has been acquired in association with material from India, Burma and Pakistan. When the Science and Art Museum, Dublin (now the National Museum of Ireland) was established in 1877, links with the South Kensington Museum, London (now the Victoria & Albert) dictated that Asian art and design would be purchased. This policy was in order to facilitate access to international design by contemporary Irish craftspeople. Objects from Iran (Persia) on show include woodcarving (in mostly pear- and sandalwood) illustrating the ‘à jour’ technique of piercing, miniature paintings of previous Shahs and enamels, ivories, metalwork and seals from the 1878 -1879 Caspar Purdon Clarke purchase. Purdon Clarke was born in Dublin in 1846. From architectural designer and official commercial agent of the British Indian section of the Paris International Exhibition, 1878, he would eventually become director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1896, followed by the directorship of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, by 1905.

Indian Subcontinent

The Indian Collection is immensely varied, dating mostly to the 19th Century with some significant exceptions. An example of the last is sculpture from the region known as Gandhara (north-western India and eastern Pakistan) in Row 10, dating to the first Century BC. It is a style of Greco-Roman origin that developed between the latter date and the seventh Century AD. A similar and contemporary style of sculpture also flourished by way of Kushan art of Mathura (Uttar Pradesh, India). Categories of Indian material on show include carved wood, lacquer, ivory, jewellery, metalwork and models. In terms of metalwork one of the most characteristic Indian techniques is referred to as Bidri ware; an alloy of copper and zinc, with occasional additions of lead and steel powder, which are damascened (inlaid onto other metals). Derived from the name of the town Bidar in Mysore, the main manufacturing centres were Lucknow, Purnea and Murshidabad.

Other noteworthy objects in this row are the hooka and lota. The former is a tobacco pipe that contains a receptacle for holding water through which smoke passes up to a mouthpiece where it is then inhaled. Hookas in the Museum are generally metal based, although those of leather were also collected. The lota is a globular-shaped vessel, which was used to hold water from the Ganges River, water for ceremonial functions or even occasionally milk. Decoration usually combined the 10 incarnations of the god Vishnu, who with Brahma and Siva makes up the Hindu ‘Tri-murti’ or Trinity.

Japanese Samurai, Ivories & Enamels

This row contains the majority of the Japanese Collection. The armour of the samurai warriors on show dates to the Edo period (1600 - 1868 AD). The helmet or ‘kabuto’ consists of 32 plates, the nape guard or ‘shikoro’ consists of five lacquered parts and the sleeve armour or ‘kote’ is of seven layers, as are the shoulder guards or ‘sode’. This armour is quite different from that used by infantry since the Kamakura period (1185 - 1392 AD), a later version of which is on exhibition in the Out of Storage gallery.

The ivory figures on show are exquisite examples of Japanese art and date to the Meiji period (1868 - 1912 AD). Most of them are signed, bearing the names of such important artist-craftsmen as Gyokushu, Meizan, Toshikazu, Kameyama, Chikanobu, Ekimasa and Shinmei. Within the carvers’ category are ‘netsuke’ or ornate toggles that were suspended on belts and worn. Dating mostly to the Edo period, forms such as the figure of Hotei (Japanese god of wealth and happiness), a pea pod, mouse, tortoise, goat, lion and two devil drummers are amongst those represented. Makers’ names include Koharu, Minko, Masanao, Unpo, Shincho, Hokei, Kazutora, Masahiro and Ryosetsu Dojin.

The enamelled objects of the Japanese Collection are another fine example of Meiji period-applied art. Ranging from incense burners, to plates, flower vases, pots and trays, it becomes apparent how such decoration influenced European artistic developments in the lead into ‘Art Nouveau’ with its richness of colour and distinct spatial delineation.

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