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The Manchu Era: Art of China’s Last Imperial Dynasty

March 19, 2004 - March 19, 2004

In 1644 a small group of nomadic warriors descended from Manchuria and conquered China. These Manchu warriors named their dynasty Qing (meaning “pure”) and ruled China until 1911. The effects of conquest by a people ethnically and culturally different from the Chinese were manifold. Aware that the Chinese majority could eventually assimilate them, the Manchu developed a political organization that sufficiently maintained the Chinese-style bureaucracy while at the same time preserving their own identity. To prevent assimilation, the Manchu stressed their ethnic differences. Among the most obvious differences were language and customs. The Manchus adopted different court attire in the form of boots, trousers and coats of a nomadic style. The Chinese male population had to adopt the long queue pigtail as a symbol of the Manchu dominance.

In the arts, the Manchu rulers continued to enjoy magnificent porcelains made at the ceramic centre of Jingdezhen, but they demanded an even greater degree of perfection. This perfectionism applied to other fields including jade, bamboo, ivory and amber carvings as well as cloisonn? and lacquerware.

However, with all art forms there was always a strong underlying current of Chinese influence. In the end the Manchus were assimilated by the Chinese and the Qing dynasty fell in 1911. This exhibition examines various aspects of art produced during Manchu rule: arts which show Manchu influence as well as the continuance of Chinese art style. The exhibition is divided into four parts: costumes, ceramics, painting and calligraphy scrolls, and will include stunning jade, ivory, amber, bamboo carving, cloisonn? and bronze artifacts.

Today, the porcelain of the Qing dynasty is held in high esteem throughout the world. Some experts consider them the most splendid ceramics ever crafted. Other highlights of the exhibition include a huge two-wheel 18th century horse cart recently donated to the Art Gallery by Joey and Toby Tanenbaum. Also included are two large Imperial kesi (cut silk) tapestries, early unpublished Chinese paintings of European ships coming to China, a large ?famille verte? figurine, large blue and white porcelain chargers, a collection of impressive snuff bottles and opium boxes, and a huge coramandel screen with inlaid precious stones such as jade, coral, malachite, turquoise, quartz, and amethyst.

Catalogue will be available in the Gallery Shop.

Watch for lecture series in April.

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