The Rare Book Display: Chinese Porcelain, Jade, and Painting.

In honor of the exhibition of the special exhibition, Crosscurrents of Design: Asian Export Ceramics The Art of Jade through October 30, 2011, in the Searing Wing, there is a display of rare book collection on Chinese Art at the entrance of the Ringling Museum Library.

The books that are exhibited come from every imaginable corner of the world, ranging from Istanbul,  Taiwan, New York and John Ringling’s own library. The age of these books is of a wide span as well, from 1909 to 1986.  In addition to that, the material is quite diverse. There are catalogs, scholarly discovery and documentations.  However, what they share in common (besides the fact that they are all about Chinese art) is that they are all gifts from the good friends of Ringling Museum Library. Without these generous donations, there would not be  this wide variety of books to learn from.

A List and Summary of the Books on Display:

Chinese ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul: a complete catalogue / by Regina Krahl in collaboration with Nurdan Erbahar; edited by John Ayers; with historical studies by Ünsal Yücel and Julian Raby. –London ; New York, NY, 1986.

The book (on the far left of the picture above) documents one of the largest collections of Chinese ceramics in the world owned by the Topkapi Saray Museum in Istanbul. The collections consist of porcelains made for export from the 13th to the 19th century.  The book illumines the history of Chinese ceramics and also the Ottoman court’s attitude and taste towards Chinese Porcelains. The book is a gift of The Ehrhart Family Foundation.

Ancient Chinese jade: explanatory notes on Mr. T.C. Liu’s unique collection of examples of Chinese art / U.S.A. representative: Mr. Henry H. Wu.– Shanghai : H.H. Wu, 1933.

The book (on the left) is part of John Ringling’s art book collection. John Ringling’s library book collection consists of rare limited editions, folios, and periodicals. However, very little books were about Chinese art, making this an exceptionally rare piece.  The text is presented in both Chinese and English.  The author, Liu, was a dealer and Antiquarian who lived in China but wished to sell his objects in America.

A history of early Chinese art / by Osvald Sirén.– London : E. Benn, 1929-30.

Osvald Siren, the author, is a Finnish-born Swedish scholar of Italian Trecento but more notably one of the early Western scholars and collectors of Oriental art. Sirén is also known for being an early member of the theosophist movement.   In this book (the book in the far left , Siren traces chronologically the evolution of style in Chinese art and discusses influences of historical and religious events. The gift is in memory of Col. and Mrs. Gregg L. McKee from their sons, 2009.

Chinese art/ by Stephen W. Bushel– London : H.M.S.O, 1909.

The author (picture on the right), Stephen Bushell (1844-1908), was an English physician who was posted in Beijing for the British Legislation. He became an amateur Orientalist who made important contributions to the study of Chinese ceramics, Chinese numismatics and the decipherment of the Tangut script. In addition, Bushell was one of the first Europeans to visit Shangdu, the fabled summer capital of the Yuan dynasty, since the time of Marco Polo. A Gift of Francie and Michael Cowen, 2007.

Exhibition of Chinese art : at the fine arts exposition, the Forum, Rockefeller Center, New York City, November, 1934.– New York City : Yamanaka, 1934. Text signed: Leslie A. Hyam.

This exhibition at Rockefeller Center marks the beginning of Rockefeller family’s long involvement with the appreciation and collection of Asian Art. The Bodhisattvas in the exposition, acquired by John D. Rockefeller Jr, was admired by all the critics and soon became the family’s favorite.

On the bottom is the well acclaimed Bodhisattvas exhibited at the Rockefeller Center. According to Family lore, young Rockefeller liked this piece so much that he asked his mother if it could be given to him when she passed away.

Chinese porcelain / by W.G. Gulland ; with notes by T.J. Larkin.– 3d ed.– London : Chapman & Hall, 1911.

W.G. Gulland is a collector who had his first interest in Chinese ceramics and carried out the study though out his life. He also represents the group collectors in the early 20th century with direct experience with China. The illustrations and information of the book may be outdated. However, the book was among the first to draw attention to the decorative style of which porcelain shares with derivative painting, and wood block printing. A Gift of Francie and Michael Cowen, 2007

Three hundred masterpieces of Chinese painting in the Palace museum / Selected and compiled by an editorial committee of the Joint Board of Directors of the National Palace Museum and the National Central Museum. [Editor-in-chief: Wang Shi-cheih].– Taichung, 1959.

The book catalogues the collection of Chinese Art of the Yuan period of the National Palace Museum (the picture below), which is the national museum of the Republic of China located in Taipei Taiwan. The museum shares the same roots of the Palace Museum situated in the Forbidden City of Beijing. The collection consists of over 677,687 pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts that once belonged to the Imperial Family. The artworks symbolize the preserved Chinese cultural heritage that was successfully saved from Sino-Japanese War and the Cultural Revolution.

Why this random arrange of books? If the books are either out of date or out of print, why display it? Precisely because they are old and rare so we showcase them . The knowledge these books offer may be obsolete, but the books still tell a story about the development and understanding of Chinese art. These books  were never just for storage or display, they were once useful, something to be read, reread and debated about. Even though these books became outmoded, they will still have meaning.  Now, the books have become artifacts with a history behind them. That is why, they are being displayed at the entrance of the Ringling Museum Library.

As I browse through the Ringling’s Special Exhibition of Chinese porcelain and jade, three main issues always come to surface. The representation of the East and the West, the trade of Chinese Art, and the artistic value of the objects.  What is interesting is that the first two always influence and impact the latter.   I noticed there is a ceramic piece of Guanyin, a female budhisattva associated with compassion, placed right next to the Chinese depiction of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.  They are put together not because of mere coincidence but for a specific intention, to let the viewer draw comparison between the two.  Making us aware of the interesting nuances of how the west views the east and how the east views the west and how it changes the way we view Chinese art.

Likewise, my arrangement of books is intended to illustrate the evolution of western attempts to understand and appreciate Chinese art. The interaction between the East and the West has its old and complex roots.  A few books, such as Chinese Porcelain and An Early History of Chinese Art, tells the story of Europeans in the 1900’s who visited China. These people were  considered the amateur Orientalist scholar.    Other texts tell us the famous American and European collectors of Chinese Art, including John Ringling and Rockefeller.   John Ringling only collected very small amount (one can see a few at the Ca d’Zan), while Rockefeller had many. His involvement with the Asian Art scene soon contributed to his family’s commitment to build strong ties between Asia and the U.S.  One book tells the surprisingly massive collection of Chinese porcelain at the Ottoman court (picture below). There were much import of Chinese ceramics since the 12th century. As opposed to selecting and collecting them like they were objects of art,  the Ottoman court simply  used of the ceramic plates and bowls pratically.  Last but not least, there is the book cataloging the Paintings, owned by the National Palace Museum, which belonged to the Imperial family. This book symbolizes the preserved Chinese heritage and tradition.  As we can see through all the different books, Chinese art is discussed very differently depending on who the book is written for, when it is written, and who wrote it. The display is meant to give us a global and historical glimpse of the evolution behind the understanding of Chinese art.

Written by Chienyn Chi

Bibliography

Krahl Regina, Erbahar Nurdan, and John Ayers, eds. Chinese ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul: a complete catalogue –London ; New York, NY, 1986.

Wu H. Henry.  and Liu. Ancient Chinese jade: explanatory notes on Mr. T.C. Liu’s unique collection of examples of Chinese art — Shanghai : H.H. Wu, 1933.

Osvald Sirén. A history of early Chinese art — London : E. Benn, 1929-30.

Bushel Stephen. Chinese art — London : H.M.S.O, 1909.

Exhibition of Chinese art : at the fine arts exposition, the Forum, Rockefeller Center, New York City, November, 1934.– New York City : Yamanaka, 1934. Text signed: Leslie A. Hyam.

Gulland W.G. Chinese porcelain.– 3d ed.– London : Chapman & Hall, 1911.

The editorial committee of the Joint Board of Directors of the National Palace Museum and the National Central Museum. [Editor-in-chief: Wang Shi-cheih].Three hundred masterpieces of Chinese painting in the Palace museum— Taichung, 1959.

Johnson Peter and Proser Adiana. The Passion for Asia:Rockefeller Legacy –Hudson Hills Press LLC, 2006.

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