Eastern prom­ise

This year’s Asian Art in Lon­don event casts a wider net to re­veal Ori­en­tal trea­sures from the cap­i­tal and be­yond

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

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; info@john-eske­nazi.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

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