This year’s Asian Art in London event casts a wider net to reveal Oriental treasures from the capital and beyond
THE recent news that some Chinese archaeologists now consider that the famous terracotta figures entombed with the First Emperor (reigned 220–210BC) show the influence of ancient Greece provides a nice counterweight to the old jibe that the Chinese always claim prior invention of anything worthwhile and, at the same time, it seems very plausible. Smaller pottery figures had long been made in China, but there was no precedent for the life-sized Terracotta Army.
Qin Shi Huang was the ruler of Qin, the westernmost Chinese kingdom, before declaring himself First Emperor on defeating the six other Warring States. Alexander the Great had died a century earlier, but, for generations afterwards, Hellenistic successor kingdoms held many of his conquests from Greece to India. Pivotal to the transmission of cultural influence as well as trade were Gandhara, in southern Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Graeco-bactrians to the north and, to a lesser extent, the Mauryan Empire across much of India. It may be that, in sculpture, the influences ran in both directions.
Early Gandharan statues were carved in schist, although, later, moulded clay and stucco were used, which were more practical, especially for huge Buddhas, just as the basic figures for the Terracotta Army were produced in moulds. Now that we are told of Chinese living in Roman London, it is hardly surprising that earlier Hellenistic sculptors had travelled east to Qin.
During this year’s Asian Art in London (AAL), from November 3 to 12, John Eskenazi, who specialises in Gandharan as well as South-east Asian and Himalayan art, and is based in London W9, will be showing recent acquisitions by appointment only (020–7409 3001; email@example.com). Among them should be a 7¾inhigh Gandharan figure of a reclining man dating from the 4th or 5th century (Fig 1). It is in painted stucco and although the costume is Oriental, there is still a faint touch of Greece to him, and not just in his evident respect for Bacchus.
The 19th AAL will spread its tentacles even further beyond London. Auction houses sensibly co-ordinate their auctions to take advantage of visiting collectors; the London salerooms, including Chiswick Auctions for the first time, are now joined not only by Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh and Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury, but also Nagel Auktionen of Stuttgart in Germany.
Similarly, the repute of the occasion and of the museums and institutions that involve themselves with it have caught the attention of the Royal Collection, which marks the launch of the much-anticipated catalogue raisonné of its Chinese and Japanese works of art with an evening discussion led by the catalogue’s author, the sinologist John Ayers, with art historian Rose Kerr and Rufus Bird, Deputy Surveyor of The
Fig 1: Reclining Gandharan figure. With John Eskenazi
Fig 2: Tibetan Buddhist With Joost van den Burgh