“Cast of Gods: Ming Dynasty Bronzes, Deities and Ritual Vessels” is an exhibition of Chinese bronzes, which demonstrates why the Chinese are called the “masters of the mold” in a tradition of bronze casting that dates back to before the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BC). It will run September 19 to November 1 at E&J Frankel, Ltd, 1040 Madison Avenue.
These Ming dynasty bronzes embody the dignitaries and deities of the “Three Teachings”: Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. They not only show the aesthetics and artisanship of the Ming period (1368-1644), but also allude to the socio-political climate of their period, when the “Three Teachings merged into One.”
The reawakening of a more universal form of neo-Confucianism revived reverence for antiquity and brought forth the “100 Antiques,” a reference to archaic bronze forms. At the same time, bronze manifestations of such deities as Guanyin, Guandi, Laozi, the Buddha and Wen Chang, to mention but a few, for temples and home shrines, representing the multifarious faces of Chinese divinity in the syncretic religious environment of Ming China.
This exhibition of 54 objects displays techniques such as gold and silver inlay, enamel inlay, gilding and variations in patination, all of which appeared in this period. An example of Ming dynasty opulence, in 1427 the Xuande Emperor received 39,000 (23 tons) caddies of copper as tribute from the King of Siam (Thailand). In 1428 these became ritual bronze vessels. So popular was the demand for bronze vessels for religious, courtly and scholarly use, incense was burned in temples and home shrines, as well as scholar’s studios in elegant ding shape bronze censers.
The exhibition will open a window onto the inner worlds of the Confucian State cult, with roots in ancient Chinese shamanism, as well as Buddhism and Daoism, through these bronze objects, which reveal the heart and soul of China. For many, it may be a first encounter with the various religions of China and the exquisite art they inspire.
E&J Frankel, Ltd, one of New York’s oldest and most respected Asian art galleries, is once again on the cutting edge, introducing ancient ideas in new forms to American collectors and enthusiasts.
E&J Frankel, Ltd is at 1040 Madison Avenue at 79th Street and is open Monday to Saturday, from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. For more information, 212-879-5733 or ejfrankel.com.