Ori­ent to Oc­ci­dent—silk Road Meets the Re­nais­sance

More than 200 relics from 21 Ital­ian mu­se­ums and 17 Chi­nese mu­se­ums ev­i­dence an­cient cul­tural ex­change between Asia and Europe.

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Xu Baicheng

This is a story nar­rat­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the Ori­ent and the Oc­ci­dent in an­cient times. In mod­ern times, West­ern cul­ture has strongly im­pacted Chi­nese so­ci­ety. But through­out his­tory, Chi­nese civ­i­liza­tion ex­erted pro­found in­flu­ence on the West. Nu­mer­ous trav­el­ers like Marco Polo con­nected the con­ti­nents of Asia and Europe by bring­ing Oriental nov­el­ties and sto­ries to the West. Their ac­tiv­i­ties left a last­ing in­flu­ence on both con­ti­nents.

Such is the nar­ra­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion “Em­brac­ing the Ori­ent and the Oc­ci­dent—when the Silk Road Meets the Re­nais­sance,” which fea­tures more than 200 relics from 21 Ital­ian mu­se­ums and 17 Chi­nese mu­se­ums. These ex­hibits tes­tify to the cul­tural ex­change between Asia and Europe.

Li Jun, a pro­fes­sor at the School of Hu­man­i­ties of the Cen­tral Acad­emy of Fine Arts, cu­rated the ex­hi­bi­tion after he was in­spired by one of his over­seas ex­pe­ri­ences. Between 2002 and 2004 when Li Jun worked at France’s Musée Guimet for a short time, he vis­ited an ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tur­ing fur­ni­ture from China’s Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644). It opened with

a com­par­i­son of Ming fur­ni­ture and Ro­coco-style Euro­pean fur­ni­ture from the 18th cen­tury. In terms of both de­sign and dec­o­ra­tion tech­niques, the lat­ter ob­vi­ously im­i­tates the for­mer. “At that mo­ment, I was stunned by the re­al­iza­tion that the an­cient has shaped the mod­ern and the East has in­flu­enced the West,” says Li. In his sub­se­quent re­search, Li found more Oriental traces hid­den be­hind many West­ern art­works and cul­tural phe­nom­ena.

A few years ago, Li vis­ited an ex­hi­bi­tion about the Mar­itime Silk Road at Guang­dong Pro­vin­cial Mu­seum. He was stunned by a pair of wooden fe­male stat­ues that looked eerily fa­mil­iar but he couldn’t place them— un­til he cu­rated this ex­hi­bi­tion. While or­ga­niz­ing this show, it dawned him that they re­sem­ble pro­tag­o­nists in the Fon­tainebleau-style paint­ing Gabrielle d’es­trées and One of Her Sis­ters, which is housed in the Lou­vre. The two pairs of fe­males share sim­i­lar ap­pear­ances but dif­fer in pos­ture. The wooden pair was once a print on a gate of a Mazu tem­ple. After care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion, he dis­cov­ered that they orig­i­nated in a West­ern oil paint­ing. But how they came to China re­mains a mys­tery. This is just one case dat­ing back to the 16th cen­tury. Many sim­i­lar cases are pre­sented in the ex­hi­bi­tion, which is di­vided into six parts, based on the cat­e­gory of the ex­hibits and their themes. J Jux­ta­posed for com­par­iso com­par­i­son, many relics have never be­fore be been dis­played to­gethe to­gether, but from the per­spe per­spec­tive of cul­tural comm com­mu­ni­ca­tion, they have al­way al­ways been “old friends.” T The ex­hi­bi­tion begi be­gins with a mu­ral de­picti pict­ing Flora un­earthed from Pom­peii and The Feast Feas of Gods painted by G Gio­vanni Bellini, the foun founder of the Venetian Sch School. The mu­ral dep de­pict­ing the Ro­man god god­dess of flow­ers, whi which dates back to the 1st cen­tury, shows her in a silk gown, while th the fig­ures in The Feast of Gods hold bluean and-white porce­lain. Next to the paint­ing, two w Chi­nese bluean and-white porce­lain pi pieces from the Ming D Dy­nasty were placed for com­par­i­son.

The first part of the ex­hi­bi­tion is ti­tled “Land Silk Road” and presents cul­tural ex­change along the route. Bronze ves­sels, glass beads and silk items dis­cov­ered in Italy and China ev­i­dence the mu­tual in­flu­ence between the two coun­tries. Glass beads re­sem­bling the dragon­fly’s eye were once used in an­cient Egypt as amulets to guard against evil forces and be­came pop­u­lar through­out Eura­sia. When the bead ar­rived in

the Chu State dur­ing China’s Eastern Zhou Dy­nasty (770-256 B.C.), the Chu peo­ple adapted it to their own aes­thet­ics. The fact that the two con­ti­nents con­ducted such far-reach­ing and pro­found ex­change back then is in­cred­i­ble.

The sec­ond part, “Travers­ing the Seven Seas,” fea­tures sto­ries of the Mar­itime Silk Road. After the com­pass, in­vented by the Chi­nese, was in­tro­duced to Europe, the con­ti­nent’s oceanic nav­i­ga­tion abil­i­ties in­creased dra­mat­i­cally, which helped Euro­pean coun­tries more con­ve­niently reach rich and mys­te­ri­ous Eastern na­tions by wa­ter. In this part of the ex­hi­bi­tion, the ear­li­est nav­i­ga­tional maps from China and the West re­veal an­cient as­sump­tions about the world. A map drawn in 1459 by Fra Mauro, an Ital­ian car­tog­ra­pher from Venice, in­cluded Bei­jing, then cap­i­tal of the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271-1368), and even its Lu­gou Bridge. It also noted that a Chi­nese sail­boat had reached and passed the south­west­ern tip of Africa, while Por­tuguese nav­i­ga­tors had only ex­plored the mid­dle of the west­ern African coast. This graphic clue helped the Por­tuguese reach the south­ern tip of Africa, herald­ing their fur­ther ex­pe­di­tions to In­dia and other Eastern coun­tries.

From the per­spec­tive of a trav­eler like Marco Polo, the “Sil­hou­ette of an Em­pire” sec­tion re­vives the mag­nif­i­cence of the cap­i­tal (now Bei­jing) of the Yuan Dy­nasty. Euro­pean trav­el­ers were en­chanted by the city’s build­ings, porce­lain and art, which were recorded in his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­als and dis­played in this ex­hi­bi­tion. Those cul­tural am­bas­sadors opened the door to a wealth of cul­ture from the Eastern coun­try. The sec­tion “Phoenixes Back to West” dis­plays com­modi­ties and gifts car­ried back by those trav­el­ers, which served not only as sou­venirs but also as car­ri­ers of Eastern cul­ture, later fus­ing into West­ern life­styles and cul­ture.

The “Silk Dream” sec­tion demon­strates in­ter­ac­tion between Eastern and West­ern cul­tures via the com­mod­ity of silk. The pat­terns on an­cient silk pieces from Ital­ian and Chi­nese mu­se­ums re­sem­ble each other con­sid­er­ably. More in­ter­est­ingly, silk em­broi­deries on the robes of an­cient Chi­nese of­fi­cials be­came fash­ion­able de­signs for the gar­ments of up­per-class West­ern­ers on im­por­tant oc­ca­sions at the time. The “World of In­te­gra­tion” part em­pha­sizes that cul­tural ex­change is mu­tual and traces how Chi­nese cul­ture was in­flu­enced by the West as ev­i­denced by ma­te­rial, cul­tural and artis­tic marks.

Tra­di­tional ex­hi­bi­tions of­ten high­light the in­flu­ence that West­ern art ex­erted on China, but this ex­hi­bi­tion took a con­verse ap­proach to il­lu­mi­nate Chi­nese art’s in­flu­ence on the Euro­pean Re­nais­sance. “Be­fore the dom­i­nant ‘mod­ern world sys­tem’ evolved from the Re­nais­sance, there were many world sys­tems,” Li ex­plains. “Among them, many di­verse coun­tries across the vast Eurasian su­per­con­ti­nent con­ducted in­ter­ac­tion so in­ti­mately and pro­foundly that it’s hard for us to fathom to­day. Re­gard­less of the era, mu­tual ex­change, mu­tual learn­ing and com­mon de­vel­op­ment among dif­fer­ent cul­tures have re­mained the main­stream trend.”

Zhang Guo­lao Meets with Em­peror Xuan­zong of the Tang Dy­nasty by Ren Renfa, silk scroll, 4.15×107.3cm, 1254-1327.

by Ren Xianzuo, silk scroll, 32.2×188.7cm, 1342. Three Steeds

Mar­ble statue of Aphrodite, 129cm tall, dat­ing back to the 1st to 2nd cen­tury.

Tes­ta­ment of Marco Polo, ink on parch­ment, 67×24.5cm, 1323.

The Coronation of the Vir­gin by Sano di Pi­etro, 239×197×14.5cm, 1406-1481.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.