Collecting China

Case Studies of Collecting Chinese Objects in China and Europe, Past and Present
Wednesday
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room B

  • Organised by Phillip Grimberg
  • Phillip Grimberg, Chair
  • Shao-Lan Hertel, “Anonymous Greetings from the “Studio of Two Inkslabs”: The Constitutive Function and Meaning of Unidentified Collectors in Chinese Art History, as Seen through the Chen Hongshou 陳鴻壽 (1768–1822) Calligraphy Scrolls in the collection of Tsinghua University Art Museum”
  • Chiara Visconti, “The Birthday Collections: The Significance of ‘Sino-Tibetan’ Art in the Imperial Celebrations”
  • Helena Motoh, “Lost Traces–Missionary Collections of Chinese Objects in Slovenia”
  • Nataša Vampelj Suhadolnik, “The Dual Peripheral Nature of the Collecting History of East Asian Objects in Slovenia at the Turn of the 20th century”

Collecting, defined as the selective acquisition of an inter-related set of objects, has long played a prominent role in different strata of society across time and cultures. In China, collecting ancient artefacts and objets d´art was traditionally associated with the idea of comprehending and retracing the Way and maintaining the order of the world and the cosmos. In the course of growing colonial and re-emerging missionary interests in the Far East since the middle of the 19th century, collecting Chinese objects in Europe, on the other hand, can be regarded as both a demonstration of the wealth and power of the collector as well as an expression of a newly emerged interest in the allocation of knowledge and learning. The proposed panel intends to illustrate different approaches to and modes of collecting Chinese objects both in China and in Europe on the basis of four case studies. The first paper by Shao-Lan Hertel will elucidate the constitutive function and meaning of unidentified collectors in Chinese art history by means of a collaborated set of four calligraphy scrolls by the Qing calligrapher Chen Hongshou 陳鴻壽 (1768–1822), among others. The second paper by Chiara Visconti focuses on the collection of birthday gifts and the significance of Sino-Tibetan art at the court of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1796). The papers by Nataša Vampelj Suhadolnik and Helena Motoh both analyse the history and significance of collecting Chinese objects in 20th century Slovenia. While Nataša Vampelj Suhadolnik explores the dual peripheral nature of the collecting history of East Asian objects in Slovenia at the turn of the 20th century, Helena Motoh´s paper intends to trace the paths of Chinese objects from missionary collections, using several examples to show what challenges these complex past events set for museums and experts today.

Shao-Lan Hertel, “Anonymous Greetings from the “Studio of Two Inkslabs”: The Constitutive Function and Meaning of Unidentified Collectors in Chinese Art History, as Seen through the Chen Hongshou 陳鴻壽 (1768–1822) Calligraphy Scrolls in the collection of Tsinghua University Art Museum”

In the historical context of calligraphy production and transmission in China, more often than not, the recipients, collectors, and collections of specific works remain obscure, even if indicated by name in respectively added signatures, colophons, labels, or seals. Responding to recent positive revaluations of “the anonymous,” “unidentified” artist in scholarly discourse, the constitutive function and meaning of unidentified collectors, without whose existence a majority of artworks would never have come into being, let alone undergone preservation throughout time and space, is discussed. The investigation of a collaborative work, produced by the mid-Qing calligrapher Chen Hongshou together with three contemporaneously active calligraphers, carves out the (in)visibility of the unknown, ‘behind-the-scenes’ collector, who in the very function and identity as collector indeed fulfills a central role on the stage of Chinese art history. As revealed through its various imprints, the work now kept at Tsinghua University Art Museum—a comprehensive set of four hanging scrolls dated 1811, elaborately inscribed with texts of poetic, literary, historical, and art theoretical nature executed in different script types and calligraphic styles—was presented to a recipient pen-named Chen Zhai; collected by a certain Wen Nong; and kept in the so-named Studio of Two Inkslabs. Though an initial attempt is undertaken at identifying these ‘no-names,’ primary concern lies in (re)assessing the art historical significance of the unidentified collector in the light of a well preserved artifact presenting an invaluable first-hand resource, allowing for more inclusive study of mid-Qing calligraphy cultures, aesthetic practices, and textual traditions.

Chiara Visconti, “The Birthday Collections: The Significance of ‘Sino-Tibetan’ Art in the Imperial Celebrations

In 2014 the Chinese collection in the Umberto Scerrato Museum of the University of Naples “L’Orientale” was further enriched with a small gilded bronze figure donated by prof. Francesco De Sio Lazzari. Similar, when not identical, to thousands of other figurines preserved in museums and collections around the world, the statue was cast on the occasion of the eightieth birthday of Emperor Qianlong’s mother, Empress Dowager Xiaosheng (1692–1777), and the sixtieth anniversary of the birth of the Emperor himself; it depicts the Buddha Amitayus. Through the study of this figurine, only a few centimetres tall, the aim of this paper is to open a window into eighteenth-century Chinese court art and the multi-faceted panorama of the last dynasty, shining light on the imperial celebrations and the collections of birthday gifts in which different cultural traditions coexisted and mixed, with a special role reserved for Tibetan Buddhism.

Helena Motoh, “Lost Traces–Missionary Collections of Chinese Objects in Slovenia”

Lost traces—missionary collections of Chinese objects in Slovenia The paper focuses on the topic of early 20th-century missionary collections in Slovenia. Similar to other European countries, the Slovenian part of the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia witnessed the appearance of several missionary collections and exhibitions of objects, collected by the Slovene missionaries in China. What makes this topic particularly interesting—and this will be the main emphasis of the paper—is the fate of these collections during and after the Second World War. With rare exceptions, the collections were either lost during the war or were confiscated after 1945 by the new socialist state as part of the property of the Church. The objects were then gathered in the Federal Collection Centres without proper documentation and subsequently donated to museums or lent for private use—from which most of the objects never returned. This paper will trace the paths of these objects and use several examples to show what challenges these complex past events set for museums and experts today.

Nataša Vampelj Suhadolnik, “The Dual Peripheral Nature of the Collecting History of East Asian Objects in Slovenia at the Turn of the 20th Century”

The scope and nature of collecting East Asian objects in Slovenia at the turn of the 20th century should be considered in the context of the broader socio-political developments within the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, part of which was also Slovenian territory. Its contact with East Asia began only in the late 19th century, particularly after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 when Austria-Hungary gained a slight advantage before other naval countries.
Taking into consideration the centre-periphery relationship, the present paper discusses the nature of collecting of East Asian objects in Slovenia at the turn of the 20th century. The socio-political concept of the centre-periphery shows the two-stage peripheral character of the Slovenian territory, with the first stage reflecting the interdependence between the larger metropolises of Austria-Hungary and the more remote and poorer parts of the countryside, while the second stage indicates more complex political, social and economic links between Austria-Hungary as a peripheral state formation in relation to major European imperial powers, especially from the perspective of the naval forces that dominated East Asia. In the paper, I will try to answer how this dual peripheral nature of the Slovenian territory reflects in the collecting history of Chinese and Japanese objects, and consequently, in the formation of the perception of Chinese society and culture.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room B
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Case Studies of Collecting Chinese Objects in China and Europe, Past and Present