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Press release

China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD

Exhibition dates: October 12, 2004 – January 23, 2005
Exhibition location: The Tisch Galleries, second floor
Press preview: Monday, October 4, 10:00 – noon

The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present a landmark exhibition of ancient Chinese art – one of the largest ever to be organized with loans from across Mainland China – beginning October 12, 2004. Bringing together more than 300 works of extreme rarity and art historical importance, many of which have never before been exhibited outside China, China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD will tell the story of Chinese art and culture from the Han to the Tang dynasty, a period of major transformation for Chinese civilization due to massive immigrations from northern Asia into China and extensive trade contacts with all parts of Asia. The exhibition will feature objects in an astounding variety of media – including objects in jade, bronze, gold, silver, metal, stone, and wood, as well as textiles, works on paper, and wall paintings – ranging in size from an enormous sculpture of a fantastic animal to a small gold coin.

Most of the objects in the exhibition have been excavated in the last 30 years, including gold artifacts of the nomadic peoples from Mongolia who occupied North China after the collapse of the Han dynasty at the beginning of the third century, and luxury articles of glass and precious metals imported from western and Central Asia during the fourth to the sixth century. Other major highlights of the exhibition are works of art associated with the early spread of Buddhism in China, including some of the most famous early Chinese Buddhist sculptures, and a spectacular grouping of works in a broad range of media from the Tang period in the seventh and eighth centuries, demonstrating the culmination of several centuries of cultural exchange and adaptation.

The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue are made possible by The Starr Foundation.

Additional support for education programs has been provided by The Freeman Foundation.

Support for the catalogue has also been provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

An indemnity has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum, commented: "It is indeed a great privilege for the Metropolitan Museum to present this breathtaking assemblage of treasures from China, and particularly now, as new scholarship and recent archaeological finds warrant a full-scale cultural reassessment of the late Han to high Tang periods – leading us to consider this period not as a 'dark age' following the collapse of the Han empire, but rather as a time of massive influx of foreign ideas that invigorated Chinese culture and laid the foundation for glorious artistic achievements during the Tang dynasty."

James C. Y. Watt, Brooke Russell Astor Chairman of the Department of Asian Art at the Metropolitan and curator of the exhibition, continued: "The more than 300 works we have selected for this exhibition combine well-known masterpieces of Chinese art with spectacular new archaeological discoveries. Together, they illuminate a new interpretation of the third through the eighth century in China as a time of active and fruitful cultural exchange between East and West. The broad range of styles and techniques permeating the visual arts, in both the secular and religious spheres, had a stunning impact on Chinese culture – the genesis of the Tang dynasty's vivid, cosmopolitan culture."

The exhibition will be organized into seven sections, the first of which will focus on objects from the later years of the Han dynasty, demonstrating both the splendor of the imperial order and the underlying causes for the eventual dissolution of the empire. Central in this section will be a set of 14 bronze cavalry and charioteer figures, arranged in the formation of an official procession. Also on view will be a group of luxury objects – including a jade stem-cup in the form of a Roman glass goblet and gold ornaments with stone inlay, reflecting the influence of long-distance trade – and the reconstruction in pottery of a large estate, including models of a watchtower, a house with courtyard, animal pens, and a well-head.

The rest of the exhibition will be organized chronologically and geographically, with each section featuring a geographical region as the political and cultural center for a particular historical period. Covering the second through the fourth century, the second section will bring together archaeological finds from sites in North China associated with the tribes collectively known as the Xianbei. One of those tribes, the Tuoha Xianbei, became rulers of all of North China during the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534). On view will be examples of the "animal-style" art of the Xianbei, including a second-to-third-century gold plaque in the shape of a fanciful animal. Early efforts by the Xianbei to emulate the arts of central China, as their inexorable southward migration took them to the border of China just north of the Great Wall, resulted in works such as Two Warriors, a pair of vibrant fifth-century earthenware sculptures.

The third section of China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD will focus on the region of Datong in Shanxi Province, where the Tuoba Xianbei established their first Wei-dynasty capital in China. Objects such as pottery funerary figures – based on Chinese models but in a distinctly northern style – will be shown, along with works imported from Central and western Asia (examples of metalwork with Hellenistic and Persian forms and motifs) and locally anufactured objects showing western influences. Two early Buddhist sculptures dating from the late fifth century will introduce Buddhist art into the exhibition.

The fourth section, a corollary to the previous section, will consist of objects found in Xinjiang (Chinese Central Asia) and Gansu Province, tracing artistic exchanges that took place along the Silk Roads from the fourth to the sixth century. Early Buddhist art will be represented by a four-sided stele dated 501, and a display of the eclectic art of Central Asia will feature textiles such as a seventh-century silk fragment with a design of figure and camel enclosed within a roundel.

Objects found in areas of China south of the Yangxi River, where native Chinese culture was dominant but not unaffected by foreign influences arriving by land and sea, will comprise the exhibition's fifth section. Pictorial bricks – large compositions of figures in landscapes that are impressed on brick walls – will be on display, along with ceramic figures and vessels, and imported objects in glass, gold, and silver. Two ink-on-paper rubbings, each nearly eight feet in length, of stamped-brick murals excavated from tombs near Nanjing, illustrate both the style of early figure painting and the lifestyle of the upper classes in the Southern Dynasties (420-589).

The arts of the metropolitan areas in and around Luoyang, the final capital of the Northern Wei through most of the first half of the sixth century, will be the focus of the sixth section. It was in the Luoyang area at this time that a grand synthesis in the visual arts took place, combining native Chinese traditions with those from northern and Central Asia. The strikingly new representational art, at once strong and refined, took root in both the religious and secular art of the period. Examples on view will include a set of ten earthenware figures from the Northern Wei dynasty and a graceful standing Buddha from the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577), which is one of several superlative Buddhist sculptures in the exhibition from this period.

During the sixth century, luxury articles from western and Central Asia continued to be imported into China. These objects, often combining Hellenistic and Persian motifs and forms, represent an early international style in the arts. Examples of such objects – such as a tall, fifth- or sixth-century gilt silver ewer in a Persian form that is decorated with Hellenistic motifs – will be included in the exhibition.

The final section of the exhibition will center on Chang'an, the capital of the Sui (581-619) and Tang (618-907) dynasties. Here the new artistic tradition, fostered under the Northern Wei dynasty in its final years in the Luoyang area, flowered. These galleries will display murals of the early Tang period, luxury silks, porcelain vessels, pottery and stone figures, and Buddhist sculptures in bronze and stone, as well as objects in gold, silver, jade, and semi-precious stones. Highlights include a large stone sculpture of a Seated Vairocana Buddha, dating from the late seventh to early eighth century, an earthenware sculpture of a Girl Resting on a Camel, a silver six-lobed plate decorated with a mythical winged animal, and an eight-lobed cup made of silver and showing scenes of hunting interspersed with those of women engaged in various activities, including playing with children. Objects from the Turfan area in Chinese Central Asia, dating from the late seventh or early eighth century, when Turfan was part of the Tang empire, include a spectacular tomb guardian with a human head and a small female figure of wood and clay with pigments, dressed in silks with patterns woven to scale and representing high fashion in both dress and makeup in the early Tang period.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum will present a full-day symposium in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium on November 13, free with Museum admission. In addition, an array of educational programs and publications for visitors of all ages will be offered. A colorful guide, available at the Museum for families with young children, will introduce youngsters to several of the key works on display; families may also explore the exhibition thematically with guides on selected weekends. Teacher workshops will be conducted and a gallery guide for teachers and students will be posted on the Museum's Web site ( Lectures and gallery talks will also be offered for adults during regular Museum hours.

China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD is organized by James C. Y. Watt. Exhibition design is by Michael Batista, Exhibition Designer, with graphic design by Sophia Geronimus, Senior Graphic Designer, and lighting by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Designers, all of the Museum's Design Department.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, written by James C. Y. Watt with contributions by An Jiayao, Angela F. Howard, Boris Marshak, and Zhao Feng. It will be published in hardcover and paperback editions by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press. A second book, edited by James C. Y. Watt and published to coincide with and complement the major exhibition catalogue, will provide an accessible introduction to the art of this period through a selection of 80 objects in the exhibition.

An Audio Guide of the exhibition will be available. The fee for rentals will be $5.00 for members of the Museum, $6.00 for non-members, and $4.00 for children under 12.

The Audio Guide program is sponsored by Bloomberg.

The exhibition will also be featured on the Museum's Web site (

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