Over 200 recently excavated objects from Inner Mongolia that reveal the complex cultural and religious legacy of the Khitan and their reign over China during the Liao Dynasty (907–1125).
The nomadic tribe of the Kitan from the Asian steppes referred to themselves as “Liao”. Around the year 1000 they were the first superpower in East Asia and conquered a territory which extended from Manchuria to Mongolia and into what is now the region around Beijing. Its military power terrified the Chinese Song dynasty and it was only by paying considerable tributes to the Liao court that an attack could be averted. The splendour of the Liao dynasty and its high cultural standard has only been brought to light by excavations during the past 20 years. Tombs and pagodas have yielded rich treasures of gold, silver, jade and amber. All subsequent foreign dynasties modelled themselves on the Liao dynasty. Its influence even extended to Europe as the word “China” is derived from Kitan (Chinese Qidan). Among the highlights of this loan exhibition are the burial accoutrements of the Princess of Chen and her consort, which have been completely preserved. Their burial masks and garments, crown, boots and pillows made from gold and silver are among the breathtaking highlights of the exhibition. Glass from Arabia and amber from the Baltic bear witness to flourishing trade links between the Liao and their neighbours to the west to satisfy their demand for luxury articles. The objects from the treasure found in the White Pagoda testify to the great importance of Buddhism for the Liao culture.
The recently excavated objects in Gilded Splendor shed new light on Liao-dynasty culture which, until recently, had generally been considered less sophisticated than the preceding Tang (618 - 907) and parallel Song (960 - 1279) dynasties. Archaeology in China over the last few decades has proven this characterization to be inaccurate as sites of Liao-period temples, tombs and city fortifications reveal spectacular objects that testify to a highly refined and culturally unique empire.
The exhibition was first shown by the Asia Society in New York, and after being on display in Cologne will go to the Rietberg Museum in Zurich.
Museum of East Asian Art Web Site