Seeing Chinese treasures at the British Museum

The British Museum is located at 44 Russell Square on the north side of New Oxford Street in London, England. Together with the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, it is known as the world’s three largest museums. This museum, founded in 1753, has 8 million collections, most of which are rare cultural relics from ancient civilizations and continents in the world. Among them, there are more than 23,579 Chinese cultural relics in the collection (a researcher said that the British Museum actually has 230,000 Chinese cultural relics. Because they are often accused of looting Chinese cultural relics, they conceal a lot of real data). Due to the limitation of exhibition space, there are only more than 2,000 collections that can be displayed, and the remaining cultural relics are stored in 10 collection rooms. Many of our cultural relics that have been lost to the UK are orphans. If you don’t take a closer look here, I’m afraid you won’t be able to see you again.

The history of China told by the British Museum begins with the collection of artifacts from the Stone Age. In the column of Chinese cultural relics index, it is introduced: “The Chinese have created the most extensive and long-lasting civilization in the world…” Stoneware, pottery, jade, bronze, lacquer, porcelain, calligraphy and painting, murals, scriptures, sculptures, silk clothing, etc. are all peerless treasures in the history of world culture.

China’s wonderful artifacts
There are many varieties of Chinese utensils. Among the artifacts, jade is the most precious. The jades displayed in the Chinese jade exhibition room of the British Museum are not only huge, but also very exquisite. Among them are the jade cong in the Liangzhu culture of the Neolithic period, the jade dragon in the Hongshan culture, and the jade bi, jade seal, jade knife, jade axe, jade cup, jade bowl, jade Decorations, jade ornaments, etc., have formed a complete series since ancient times. These jades are all carefully crafted, gentle and beautiful. For example, a statue of the jade face god carved in ancient times (2000 BC), the ancestor of jade artifacts, has been polished very delicately, and it is enough to imagine how beautiful the jade artifacts after it will be. This jade face was unearthed at the Shijiahe site in Tianmen City, Hubei, China, and is a product of the late Neolithic period. It is called the “god figure”, but it combines the characteristics of birds and beasts: wearing a jade crown, earrings, a pair of human eyes, a hooked nose, and a big mouth full of fangs. It may be used by the ancients to ward off evil spirits. Funeral goods.

China’s bronze manufacturing has a prominent position in the history of human science and technology development. The number of bronzes on display in the British Museum is also very large. The oldest large bronze is the owl from the late Shang Dynasty (1200-1000 BC), from Anyang, Henan. Owl is another name for owl, and 卣 is an ancient drinking vessel. In ancient China, the nocturnal owl was used as a sacrificial vessel, and it was believed that it could communicate with ghosts and gods. The shape of this wine jar is very cool. It looks like two back-to-back owls. The upper lid is the owl head. The two protruding horns are the owl beaks. foot. There are many kinds of decorations on the body of the owl. The scales are the owl wings, and the four districts of the tank are decorated with bird and dragon patterns, so that this wine tank has become a ferocious and mysterious bronze ritual vessel.

There is also a bronze ware similar to the style of the owl named “Shuangyang Zun”, from Hunan, China. It was cast approximately between 1200 BC and 1050 BC. Its shape is two conjoined rams. The mouth is placed on the back of the goat. The four horns of the two goat heads are not only exquisite decorations, but also can be used as handles. The lower part of the statue is composed of four sturdy lamb legs. The support is exceptionally stable and powerful. This pair of rams, named Gongyangzun, does not grow wool! The mouth and the hips on the back of the sheep are decorated with string patterns, the muzzle and the back neck are decorated with dragon face gluttonous patterns, the jaw and abdomen are decorated with ribs, and the rest of the body is decorated with fish scale patterns. As a result, it combines the auspiciousness of sheep, the majesty of beasts and the armor of fish, and the beauty of the shape is impressive.

Another bronze ware is Kanghou Gui from the early Western Zhou Dynasty, from Henan, originally collected in the Old Summer Palace. Its shape is round mouth, double ears, and high ring feet. Gui was not only a cookware used to hold food in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, but also a ritual vessel for sacrifices. Not only does it have diversified patterns, but the most wonderful thing is the shape of the handle: a pair of beasts with fangs and square ears are devouring birds. And its greatest value lies in the 24-character inscription at the bottom, which records that in 1050 BC, after the rebellion of the remnants of the Shang dynasty by Zhou Wuwang’s rebellion, he named his younger brother Kang Shu as a marquise and guarded him in the merchant’s old “guard” (now Hebi, Henan Province). ), thus becoming an important historical evidence in the early Western Zhou Dynasty.

There are also many Chinese lacquerware in the British Museum, and the exhibits include lacquerware of various generations from the Han Dynasty to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The beauty of their styles and colors are breathtaking. There is a lacquered color plate that is extraordinarily beautiful. The picture depicted on the plate is the picture of Tengwang Pavilion, a famous place in Nanchang in China, when it held a grand gathering in the early Tang Dynasty. The carved beams and paintings of Tengwang Pavilion on the banks of the Ganjiang River are scattered and scattered; the sky is full of auspicious clouds and the cranes are flying; the blue waves are rippling under the terraces, and the flowers and grass cover the banks; there are sailing boats on the river, carriages and horses on the road, and guests from all directions come to the meeting… let this plate flourish Full of incomparably rich poetry. What’s more rare is that the bottom of the plate is also engraved with Wang Bo’s poems in “The Preface to the Pavilion of the King of Teng”, and is written “The Second Year of Hongzhi (1489) Pingliang Wang Mingdao”.

There is also a black lacquer square box, known as a model of 16th century lacquer inlay. The pattern on the box surface is like a woodcut print. What is depicted in the painting seems to be an elegant collection. There are pavilions, archways, and curved columns in the scene. What is more interesting is the various characters in the courtyard: some of them seem to be noble officials, wearing official hats, wearing robes, and entourage guards with signs. Same as usual. A massive party was thus fixed by the artist on this small black lacquered square box.

In addition to the above-mentioned beautiful gold and stone artifacts, there are a dazzling array of other rare things. Many gold bowls, silver plates, copper mirrors, gold and silver coins, and jewelry are radiating brilliant light in different corners, telling the history of Chinese manufacturers. Touching story. In 1992, with the support of Hongqing Ho, a businessman and collector from Hong Kong, China, the British Museum built this exhibition hall 33 dedicated to Chinese collections. It was named “Sir Ho Hongqing Oriental Relics Exhibition Hall”, which made us lucky to be relatively concentrated here. See these treasures of the past in China.

China’s fine porcelain
Among the ancient Chinese artifacts collected in the British Museum, the most spectacular is porcelain. Among them is an exhibition hall No. 95 dedicated to Chinese porcelain. The sign inside the door reads: “Ordinary clay is skillfully transformed into beautiful objects, which has attracted the entire history and the imagination of people around the world.” This is what Westerners say. A review of the invention of Chinese porcelain.

This exhibition hall also has a proper name called “Da Wei De Porcelain Exhibition Hall”. Among the top ten treasures recommended by the museum, there is a pair of Chinese porcelain “Da Wei De Vase” on display in this exhibition hall. The pair of vases are 63.6 cm high, thin up and down, thick in the abdomen, with a diameter of 20 cm at the thickest part, and there is a nose-lifting ear on the neck. The whole body of the vase is divided into nine layers: from top to bottom, they are chrysanthemum pattern, banana leaf pattern, cloud and phoenix pattern, lotus pattern, cloud dragon pattern, wave pattern, wave pattern, peony pattern, and miscellaneous lotus pattern. Petal pattern and so on. The most valuable thing is the 62-character inscription on the bottleneck, marking the production time and specific purpose In April of the eleventh year of Zhengzheng, I remember that Marshal Hu Jingyi, the ancestral hall of Xingyuan, made a confession.” Yushan County is now Yushan County, Jiangxi Province). The discovery of this pair of Yuan blue and white porcelains broke the conclusion that “there is no blue and white in the Yuan Dynasty” in the porcelain circle, and then named the pair of porcelain vases “to the positive” Yuan blue and white, thus laying the foundation for the research of blue and white porcelain in the Yuan Dynasty.

So, why should the original Chinese porcelain have the name “Da Wei De” on the front? Let’s talk about the person Da Vader.

Percival David (1892-1964) was born in the home of a wealthy British Jewish businessman. Graduated from the University of Cambridge with a major in law. Little is known about his professional and personal life, but he has become one of the most famous Chinese art connoisseurs and collectors in the UK and even in Europe. He has been enthusiastic about collecting Chinese antiques since he was in his 20s, and his favorite is Chinese ceramics. David’s father Sasson David was the governor of Mumbai, India, and founded a bank in Mumbai. In 1927, David received news from his father that the Empress Dowager Cixi had mortgaged a batch of secret treasures in the inner palace to a salt bank in order to raise the “Boxer’s indemnity”. With the help of his father, he bought 45 fine pieces of official kiln porcelain handed down from the ancestors of the Qing Dynasty, thus laying the foundation for the porcelain collection. Later, Dawei De became fascinated by Chinese porcelain, and for this he also learned Chinese. He often wandered through the antique market in Beijing and collected many Qing court porcelains and antiques scattered among the people, resulting in his porcelain collection reaching more than 1,700 pieces.

There are many twists and turns in the collection of Chinese porcelain by Da Weide. For example, the collection of this pair of Yuan blue and white cloud-dragon elephant-eared large vases is a miracle. Because the pair of vases had been lost for many years, Da Vader discovered them at the auction in 1935 and bought them from two collectors to reunite them. They became “Grand Vader vases”. “.

When collecting Chinese antiques, Da Weide also obtained a volume of antiques made by the imperial palace of the Qing Dynasty. It is precisely because of studying this map that he has become a well-known collector of Chinese porcelain and connoisseur of cultural relics in Western society. In 1950, Sir David Vader donated all his collection to the University of London in order to promote the research and teaching of Chinese art, and he established the David Vader Foundation. In 2009, the British Museum and the Great Vader Foundation reached an agreement to lend all of its exhibits to the British Museum as a permanent display. The 95th exhibition hall was also named “The Great Vader Porcelain Exhibition Hall”.

The British Museum originally had 8,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain in the collection, but these porcelains are not as high-quality as the porcelains in the Da Weide collection. According to Ms. Huo Shuji, the curator of the Chinese branch of the British Museum, “The most exciting of our Chinese collection are the 1,700 pieces of porcelain from Sir David’s collection and the porcelain from the British Museum. They may be the most extensive porcelains outside of China. The collection includes 17 pieces of Ru kilns. The Ming porcelains of the British Museum and the Qing porcelains of Sir David Wied are both of the highest grade.” Many of the fine works of various stages in the past millennium are even court-specific porcelains of the Ming and Qing dynasties, handed down enamel porcelains and extremely rare Ru porcelains. Ru porcelain is produced by Ru Kiln, one of the five famous kilns in the Northern Song Dynasty. The special Ru glaze of Ru kiln located in Qingliang Temple, Baofeng County, Henan Province, is characterized by the agate ingredient contained in the raw materials of the porcelain, and dissolved iron oxide and titanium dioxide are added during the glaze, so that the fired porcelain has a verdant color and lustre. Heap fat, and can naturally develop fine flakes. In addition, the extant Ru porcelain is rare, so it is very precious.

There is also an octagonal vase produced in the Yuan Dynasty Longquan Kiln in the porcelain collection of Daweide, which is also a rare treasure. The bottle is exquisite in shape and color. The most complicated technique is that its abdomen is exposed and eight windows are exposed to show the eight immortal pattern of high relief mold printing, which makes the brilliant inner tube and the elegant celadon glazed surface form a sharp contrast, thus demonstrating its original decorative technique.

Although the porcelain in the British Museum’s original collection is not as good as Da Weide porcelain, there is no shortage of special exhibits. For example, the cloisonné cloud dragon pattern lid jar displayed in the museum is one of the representatives. This lid jar is also called a cloisonné enamel porcelain altar. Its production method is different from pure porcelain making. It is necessary to use soft flat copper wire to pinch the copper tyre into various patterns and weld it firmly, and then fill it in. Enamel glaze is applied and fired. Due to the complexity of the process, different temperature setting processing is required, and it can be completed after three times of firing in the kiln, so it is particularly expensive. There are vivid Chinese dragons painted on the upper lid and the lower jar, and the words “Da Ming Xuande Years” are on the edge of the lid. From this, people speculate that it may have been used by Emperor Xuande of the Ming Dynasty.

Among the Chinese porcelain exhibited in the museum, from the Han and Tang Dynasties to the Ming and Qing dynasties, they are arranged according to age and place of origin. They are divided into different series, such as early colored pottery, palace porcelain, Tang Sancai, export porcelain, cloisonne, blue and white porcelain series. Wait. Some civil porcelains are decorated with traditional pictures of Fu, Lu and Shou, Baizi, Yingxi, Songhe, etc., and some large vases, wine jars and large plates are decorated with Ming and Qing dramas and novels. Character stories, such as the drama scenes of “The Romance of the West Chamber” and “A Dream of Red Mansions”, and the story lines of Sangu Thatched Cottage and Taoyuan Sanjie in “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. These stories are drawn particularly vivid and interesting with the unique smooth surface and soft glaze of porcelain. There are also some porcelains that have changed their decorative styles following the “Chinese style” popular in Europe at that time. Since the opening of the new sea route, European nobles and wealthy merchants have liked to decorate their living rooms with Chinese porcelain, because the value of porcelain at that time was comparable to gold and silver. It is a great honor for wealthy families to put these exquisite porcelains in the living room. . In order to meet the needs of Westerners, Chinese artisans also painted stories and landscapes that Westerners like on porcelain. For example, there is a large bowl from Jingdezhen, China, with a diameter of 36.6 cm and a height of 15.7 cm. It was produced between 1780 and 1870. The inner wall of the large bowl is decorated with flower patterns, the bottom of the bowl is decorated with flower baskets, and the outer wall depicts the scene of foreign trade built on the Pearl River in Guangzhou in the middle of the Qing Dynasty: Western-style buildings stand side by side, and Britain, France, and France are floating on the roof. The flags of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and other countries; sailboats cruising along the river shuttle back and forth, and a group of busy business activities unfolded along the outer wall of the big bowl. Looking at this big bowl, one can imagine the prosperity of trade between Europe and China back then.

China’s Qiwei Sculpture
Chinese sculpture is also one of the most closely watched exhibits in the British Museum. There is a Chinese stone lion guarding the house at the entrance of the pavilion, a Chinese bronze clock is placed prominently on the stairwell, a statue of Buddha standing shoulder to shoulder with the tall pillars in the stairwell, and various sculpture exhibits placed in the exhibition room are more diverse Such as the stone carvings of the Stone Age, the wood carvings and bronze carvings of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, the colored pottery figures and animals of the Han Dynasty tombs, as well as the Buddha statues, shrines, altars, and even the dragon-patterned glass components on the roofs of temples, etc., are numerous. Many of Chimei’s sculptures are unforgettable.

There is a statue of Goddess of Mercy in Miaoyan, carved between 550 and 577 in the Northern Qi Dynasty. Its height is 167.6 cm, which is equivalent to a real person. She has a dignified figure and a serene look. There is a small seated statue of Amitabha in the center of the flower crown on her head. She wears a collar on her neck, her robe is decorated with jewels all over her body, and the jewellery string on her chest hangs down to her knees. Regrettably, she has lost her hands. According to the color remaining on the corners of her clothes, she was once decorated with colored paintings and gold leaf. Although she was eclipsed by thousands of years of wind and frost, she failed to conceal the beauty of her body.

A Sui Dynasty white marble Buddha statue stands 5.78 meters high on the circular staircase leading from the museum to the Oriental Pavilion. According to the inscription on the lotus pedestal, this Buddha statue was carved in the fifth year of Emperor Kaihuang (585) of the Sui Dynasty. In order to facilitate transportation, this Buddha statue was once cut into three sections. After splicing and repairing, it is still tall and majestic, with vivid charm.

The three colored figurines of Tang dynasty placed in the center of the exhibition hall are regarded as the most important exhibits by the curators of the Oriental Pavilion, “just like the portrait of Mona Lisa in the Louvre.” Tang Sancai is the general term for colored glazed pottery in the Tang Dynasty, and is praised by Westerners as the “Treasure of Oriental Art”. Compared with sculptures made of other materials, Tang Sancai’s production process is more complicated, integrating sculpture, painting and pottery craftsmanship. There are a total of 13 pieces of this set of Tang Sancai sets in the museum’s collection, including one figurine of a heavenly king, one warrior figurine, two civil servant figurines, two horse figurines, two camel figurines, two town tomb beasts, and three chaplain figurines. Their body size is close to real people and animals, their shapes are vivid, the glaze is bright, and they are very exquisite. These pottery figurines let the audience see the superb craftsmanship of shaping colored pottery in the prosperous Tang Dynasty of China. Take a closer look at the combination of shapes, costumes and colors of the two characters in this set of Tang Sancai kits: the civil servant figurines are Eguanbo belted and polite; the military officer figurines are fierce and full of anger. Only from the superb posture of the characters, one can know the richness of the artistic elements and the exquisite craftsmanship contained in the three colored pottery of the Tang Dynasty.

There is also a three-color Luohan statue of the Tang Dynasty in the Liao Dynasty that is also very eye-catching. This statue was made between 1200 and 1234, following the Tang Dynasty carving tradition and the Tang Sancai pottery method. The Arhat statue is 127 centimeters high, sitting in knots, with vivid appearance and grandeur. The color of the monk’s robe is fresh and soft, and the pleats are smooth and elegant, showing the unique temperament of the Buddha’s disciples. It is perfect both in character modeling and pottery skills. According to reports, this Arhat statue was a group of 10 when it was discovered in a cave in Yixian County, Hebei Province in 1912. Each Arhat statue has its own characteristics. Unfortunately, all of them are now lost overseas, scattered in 10 museums in Europe and the United States.

Chinese woodcarving has a long history and exquisite craftsmanship. Because wooden sculptures are not easy to preserve, wood carving works handed down in ancient times are very rare. In the British Museum, we saw five wood-carved Buddha statues of the Song Dynasty, all of them beautiful. For example, a woodcarving Guanyin statue in the Song Dynasty is very outstanding: the statue sits in knots, has a plump appearance, slightly closed eyes, and a serene expression; the hair bun on the head is tied high, the clothes are elegant, the silk is gorgeous, and the whole body is painted, despite the clothing. The color painting peels off, but it does not lose the elegant beauty of its shape. Another wooden sculpture of the Water Moon Goddess of Mercy in the Song Dynasty has a similar artistic style compared to the previous one: the right leg is arched, the left leg is drooping, the right hand rests on the right leg, and the left hand rests on the pedestal. The brows are handsome and peaceful; the clothes are streamlined and streamlined. Wearing Yingluo on both knees looks natural and casual, elegant and moving. Although he is a great god in the Buddhist world, he is more like a beautiful male fan in secular life.

The British Museum also houses many gilt bronze Buddha statues from the Ming and Qing dynasties of China. The most eye-catching is a gilt bronze statue of Sakyamuni from the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty. This bronze statue is made of three parts: a double-layer lotus seat, a Buddha statue on the seat, and a backrest with flames and tangled branches as a light wheel behind it. The Buddha was sitting on a lotus seat, with dense black hair, a shiny face, looking down, with a calm expression; the left hand was on the knee, the right hand was on the right knee, and the fingers touched the ground, showing the mark of descending devil. Researchers believe that this Buddha statue is the largest and most gorgeous example of the integration of Central Plains Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism in the early 15th century, showing a high level of design art and casting.

Here, we also saw many exquisitely carved plaques, various fired ceramic figures and animal statues, as well as complex bronze statues and altars. Standing in the Chinese exhibition hall of the British Museum, I heard the sighs of many Chinese compatriots. A sigh contains many indescribable contents, and I wrote a clumsy article to remember this.