Faces of China

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Faces of China

10 December, 2017 to 01 July, 2018


Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Matthäikirchplatz, Berlin, Berlin 10785

Portraiture has a two-thousand-year tradition in China. Especially the time of the late Ming dynasty from the middle of the 16th century with its economic boom and its great intellectual openness is regarded as a special golden age. The arrival of Italian Jesuit painters such as Matteo Ricci, who introduced new techniques of European portraiture to China in 1583, also dates to this period. After the people of the Manchu conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty in 1644, a lively cultural exchange between China and Europe took place at the imperial court in Beijing, which can be followed as an example in portraiture. The Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione (Chinese: Lang Shining, Milan 1688 - Beijing 1766) is a key figure.

Pictorial Traditions - The Living and the Dead

The Chinese portraiture is significantly influenced by two depictions traditions: the portraits of ancestors and of living persons. Ancestral portraits were created in honor of deceased family members, who were thought of in religious devotions in the family circle. Most of them are made by professional but anonymous artists and are not signed. Opposite this are the often signed portraits of living persons, designed by well-known artists, among them well-known personalities such as high officials, artists, poets or military men, but also ordinary citizens depicted in single and family portraits.

While one or the other form of presentation in exhibitions has always been the subject of discussion, "Faces of China" in the two special exhibition halls of the Kulturforum is consciously dedicated to both portrait traditions, as they were in constant exchange with each other. While the upper hall is dedicated to the portraits of princely people, people in official offices and artists, the focus in the lower special exhibition hall is on individuals, families and ancestral portraits.

Contexts of images - clothing, technology, Europe

In pointed comparisons, the portraits are set in relation to their original social and religious context and their production. For example, the large-format portraits of the emperors are surrounded by silk court robes that the emperors once wore - both collections are on loan from the Beijing Palace Museum. The ancestral portraits - loans from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto - are juxtaposed with an altarpiece with a censer, candlesticks and flower vases for ancestral sacrifices. Other objects come from the rich collections of China of the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art of the National Museums in Berlin.

Insight into the workshop practice at that time gives a convolute of 365 never-before-seen preliminary studies on ancestral portraits as well as a series of portraits, which were once presented to the customers like a sample book by the artists. In addition, handbooks for portraiture with woodcut illustrations such as the "Secret Workshop Tradition of Portraiture" by Ding Gao will be exhibited, in which technical as well as scientific aspects such as physiognomy will be explained.

In addition, the exhibition deliberately creates trans-cultural references to European portraiture by contrasting Chinese portraits with European portraits from the same period. For example, Anthonis van Dyck's "Genoese Lady" (c. 1623) from the collection of the Gemäldegalerie encounters a similarly large male ancestral portrait of the same period from China

A special exhibition organized by the Museum of Asian Art - National Museums in Berlin and the Palace Museum Beijing in cooperation with the Royal Ontario Museum Toronto

The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive catalog in German and English language by Imhof Verlag.

"Faces of China. Chinese Portraiture of the Ming and Qing Dynasty (1368-1912) "is generously sponsored by The Robert HN Ho Family Foundation.