Published: October 26, 2010
Ancient jades and bronzes will return to public view at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art November 20 when more than 100 works will be reinstalled in two newly renovated galleries after more than a decade in storage. The Freer Gallery of Art possesses one of the finest and largest collections of ancient Chinese bronzes outside China.
Chinese jade carvings and vessels cast from bronze are some of the oldest and most aesthetically and technically accomplished works of art ever created. In the early Twentieth Century, guided by personal taste and self-taught connoisseurship, Charles Lang Freer amassed a large number of Chinese objects that over time have come to epitomize the classic periods of Chinese art history.
The reinstallation of Galleries 18 (bronzes) and 19 (jades) represents the first phase of a three-year plan to reimagine the Freer’s entire suite of six Chinese galleries. The goal is to showcase major collections in redesigned spaces that reflect the founder’s original focus on aesthetics and comparative study.
“Above all, we hope the return of the jades and bronzes will offer an invitation to our visitors to look closely and appreciate the quality and character of these extraordinary objects,” said Keith Wilson, associate director and curator of ancient Chinese art.
Representing all periods of the Bronze Age, the collection is particularly rich in products from metropolitan foundries of the late Shang (circa 1500‱050 BCE) and early Western Zhou (circa 1050‹00 BCE) dynasties. The new installation will feature some 40 Shang and early Zhou examples. These objects, among the most important for early Bronze Age society, originally functioned as containers for food and wine offered to deceased ancestors in solemn ritual banquets. The installation invites viewers to appreciate early Chinese bronze casting, the function of various vessel forms and the evolution of decorative motifs, primarily animals, both real and imagined.
Gallery 19 will feature 80 works illustrating the achievements of jade production, including a large and intriguing group of jade disks from the Liangzhu and later cultures. These mysterious objects seem to have played an important role in burial rites, since they are frequently found in tombs. Three of the earliest disks on display, from Liangzhu, exhibit pictorial inscriptions combining a standing bird with signs for the sun and moon. Such designs, precursors to Chinese writing, are extremely rare and probably signify clan ownership.
The disks are joined by a group of ceremonial tools and weapons as well as later luxuries that illustrate the enduring influence of craft and design first developed during the Neolithic period.
The Freer Gallery of Art, is at 12th Street and Independence Avenue SW. For information, 202-633-1000, TTY 202-633-5285 or www.asia.si.edu .
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