Briefly: The Asian Collection
From a Neolithic Chinese storage jar to a contemporary Japanese Kutani vase, Joslyn Art Museum's collection offers a 4,000-year overview of Asian civilization. Of particular significance is an extraordinary eighteenth-century (Kang-xi) eight-panel, carved red lacquer screen. Highlighted are the cultures of China, Japan, Korea, India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia.
Below are highlights selected from Joslyn's Asian collection.
Artist Unknown (Gandharan, 2nd- 3rd century),
Bodhisattva (possibly Maitreya)
, 2nd- 3rd century,
gray schist, height : 13 in.; 33.02 cm
Museum purchase, 1951.624
Some of the earliest representations of Buddha in human form were made in the ancient artistic center of Gandhara. Situated in a region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gandhara was once under the political and cultural influence of Alexander the Great and his successors. Buddha images from Gandhara thus display stylistic traits of Hellenistic Greek art.
Artist unknown (Chanese, 18th century),
, Kangxi period (1662–1722), early 18th century,
carved red lacquer, gold inlaid brown lacquer, and wood, 6 ½ x 10 ft.; 198.12 x 304.8 cm
Collection of Joslyn Art Museum, Partial Gift of Mr. Anunt Hengtrakul and Museum Purchase with funds, 2005.13.a-h
The front of this cinnabar lacquer screen depicts court scenes above panels of dragons among waves. On the reverse, columns of 168 shou (longevity) characters are written in various styles above paintings of orchids in gold on a deep brown lacquer background. The screen bears the signature of Zheng Xie (1693–1765), one of the Eight Eccentric painters of Yanzhou.
Lacquer technique was developed in China as early as the Shang period (1600–ca. 1100 BC), when the sap from a specific tree was found to harden under certain conditions, leaving a protective coating on the object to which it was applied. Through the centuries various techniques were developed, including the addition of cinnabar, which imparted a red color to the lacquer. After multiple applications, each requiring several days to dry, decorative designs were carved into the lacquer surfaces. In order to produce a screen such as this, hundreds of layers of lacquer would be required.
Artist unknown (Chinese, 4th - 6th century),
, Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534),
stone, height: 22 ¾ in.; 57.79 cm
Gift of Arthur Wiesenberger, 1954.378
Around the turn of the millennium, a branch of Buddhism called Mahayana, the “Greater Vehicle,” developed a complex pantheon of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Although there are many different Buddha figures, they all share a set of traits that distinguish them from bodhisattvas and other deities.
Like bodhisattvas, Buddhas possess an urna — a lucky sign usually consisting of a whorl of hair, a circle, or a protuberance located between the eyebrows. Buddhas alone, however, have an ushnisha — a knot of hair or a protuberance atop the head that symbolizes their surpassing wisdom.
Because the historical Buddha grew up as an Indian prince who wore heavy earrings, his ears were permanently distended. Consequently, images of both Buddhas and bodhisattvas have earlobes that stretch dramatically downward. The historical Buddha, however, gave up his jewelry and fine clothing when he left his father’s palace, and, thus, Buddhas, unlike bodhisattvas, are usually portrayed wearing the simple robes of an ascetic.
Nishiyama Hôen (Japanese; Shijo School, Edo Period (1615–1868), 1804–1867),
Two Peacocks and Flowers
, 19th century,
ink and colors on silk on two-fold screen, 66 x 74 1/2 in.; 167.64 x 189.23 cm
Museum purchase, 1998.50
Traditional Japanese artists painted on silk and paper with ink and color to create scrolls or screens. Folding screens, or byobu, are moveable paintings which functioned as dividers in large and drafty spaces in palaces, temples and homes.
Hôen was a prominent painter in Osaka. He was a master colorist who specialized in birds and flowers, as well as figures, and was noted for his naturalistic drawing and delicate and precise brushwork. Here a male peacock displays his magnificent tail to his mate amidst a garden of tree peonies and cherry and magnolia blossoms.