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Saturday, December 2, 2023

A rare glimpse into the flourishing arts and turbulent history of imperial China

CultureArtA rare glimpse into the flourishing arts and turbulent history of imperial China

The Ming Dynasty, a period in Chinese history spanning from 1368-1644, was characterized by the height of imperial power, an unprecedented growth of the economy, and a flourishing of the arts and culture. The ongoing exhibition at the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai is showcasing 83 sets of paintings and calligraphy from this era, including 20 pieces that will be on public display for the very first time.

Running from its opening on Saturday through to June 18, the exhibition features some of the most valuable pieces from the personal collection of Liu Yiqian, the founder of the Long Museum. Liu has been collecting for the past three decades, and this exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see some of his most treasured acquisitions.

The collection on display includes fans, hanging scrolls, album pages and handheld scrolls, some of which are as long as 10 meters. According to Xie Xiaodong, the exhibition’s curator, these works “collectively present a holistic landscape of the art history of the period.” Visitors can expect to see pieces from some of the most renowned artists of the time, as well as lesser-known masters whose contributions are no less important.

The artworks on display are a testament to the flourishing of artistic expression during the Ming Dynasty, with works showcasing a wide range of styles and techniques. Visitors will be able to explore the evolution of Chinese painting and calligraphy during this period, gaining insight into the cultural values and social context that shaped these artistic traditions.

The exhibition is a rare opportunity to witness a significant period in Chinese history through the lens of its artistic output. As such, it is likely to appeal to those with an interest in Chinese art and history, as well as anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the social and cultural context of this pivotal period in Chinese history.

With a wide variety of pieces on display, the exhibition offers something for everyone, from seasoned collectors to casual art enthusiasts. Whether you’re looking to deepen your knowledge of Chinese art history or simply appreciate the beauty of these timeless works, this exhibition is not to be missed.

During the 276 years of the Ming Dynasty, there were 16 emperors who ruled over China. Liu Yiqian, the founder of the Long Museum, was particularly fascinated by the tumultuous stories of the imperial family. These stories range from the founding emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, who began life as a deprived peasant, to an uncle who usurped the throne from his own nephew, the crown prince. Other tales include the capture and forced abdication of emperor Yingzong, who personally led soldiers in battles against nomads, and the tragic end of the last emperor Chongzhen, who hanged himself from a tree in Jinshan park after rebels took control of the capital city Beijing.

These stories speak to the complex and often violent nature of the Ming Dynasty, a time marked by intense power struggles and political intrigue. The lives of the emperors and their families were often fraught with danger, as they navigated the treacherous waters of court politics and fended off rival factions vying for control. Yet, despite the chaos, the Ming Dynasty was also a time of great cultural and artistic achievement, as evidenced by the many works of art on display in the Long Museum‘s ongoing exhibition.

Through these stories and the artworks on display, visitors to the Long Museum can gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating period in Chinese history. They can witness the incredible artistic output of the time, while also learning about the struggles and triumphs of the imperial family who ruled over China for nearly three centuries. By examining both the political and cultural aspects of the Ming Dynasty, visitors can gain a fuller appreciation for the complex interplay between power and creativity that helped shape this pivotal period in Chinese history.

The Ming Dynasty was a time of great drama and legends for the imperial family, according to Liu Yiqian, founder of the Long Museum in Shanghai. However, despite the turmoil of the time, the Ming Dynasty also fostered a dynamic and flourishing cultural landscape that produced some of the greatest artists, writers, and thinkers of all time. Liu has long been a collector of literati paintings and calligraphy from the period, and his collection is now the focus of an ongoing exhibition at the Long Museum.

Titled “Emperor and Literati: Painting and Calligraphy from Ming Dynasty,” the exhibition showcases the aesthetics, moral pursuits, and spiritual worlds of ancient Chinese intellectuals. The artworks were created by over 60 artists and cover a diverse range of schools and styles. Liu explains that there were many times when he added a new piece to his collection and felt a deep thrill inside, even though he may have appeared composed.

Wang Wei, director of the museum and wife of Liu, sums up the core spirit of the literati with a quote from the Confucian philosopher Mencius. The quote reads, “If poor, one should attend to their own virtue in solitude, if advanced to dignity, one should make the whole kingdom virtuous as well.” According to Wang, the literati held fast to this faith, despite the different choices they made in life.

While Confucianism remained the foundation of the political culture of the empire during the Ming Dynasty, Xie Xiaodong, curator of the exhibition, notes a significant undermining of mutual respect between the emperor and his ministers. This was an important part of Confucian values, and the phenomenon greatly affected the political ecology and contributed to the eventual collapse of the dynasty in the mid-17th century.

Despite these political challenges, the Ming Dynasty was a time of incredible artistic achievement. Literati paintings and calligraphy were highly valued by collectors, and many pieces from the period continue to be sought after today. Through the artworks on display in the exhibition, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the aesthetics and values of the literati, and of the complex interplay between politics and culture during this pivotal period in Chinese history.

In addition to the literati paintings and calligraphy, the exhibition also features pieces that showcase the wider cultural landscape of the Ming Dynasty. These include fans, hanging scrolls, album pages, and handheld scrolls, some of which stretch up to 10 meters long. Xie explains that these pieces “collectively present a holistic landscape of the art history of the period.”

For visitors to the Long Museum, the exhibition provides a unique opportunity to explore the rich cultural heritage of the Ming Dynasty. Through the artworks on display, they can witness the incredible artistic output of the time, and gain a deeper understanding of the political and cultural forces that shaped this pivotal period in Chinese history.

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