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Travel Tip: Art and Archaeology in Italy
China: at the Court of the Emperors

China: at the Court of the Emperors
FLORENCE  •  Palazzo Strozzi  •  Ongoing

In an exhibition with an installation designed by the fashion designer Romeo Gigli, over 200 masterpieces illustrate the splendour and the cosmopolitanism of the Chinese Imperial courts from the Eastern Han Period (25-220) to the Tang Empire (617-907).

The period of the Tang dynasty is considered to be the Chinese renaissance when art and culture was at its zenith - comparable to the Florentine Renaissance three centuries later. Both have their roots in the fortunate combination of linguistic unification, great journeys and an openness to ideas from outside. This exhibition introduces the visitor to the “Emperors’ Court” in Chang’an (today Xi’an), which at that time was considered to be the largest city in the world with more than two million residents. It was also the Eastern end of the Silk Road, the commercial route that connected the Far East to the Mediterranean through Central Asia and Persia.

The Tang culture, beside being refined, was cosmopolitan. The China of that period was fascinated by what came from abroad and this attraction was fueled by the importation of goods from the rest of the world through the Silk Road and the maritime routes, making the Tang empire the central point for commercial and cultural exchanges from Arabia to Japan. People from different countries, races, and religions influenced the Chinese culture with their beliefs, practices and traditions. These all combined to create a language which is considered the most innovative and important in the history of China. Splendid frescoes, spectacular stone statues, exquisite gold and silver objects, glittering jewels, earthenware statues and exotic glassware show the discovery of this new expression.

This is the second in a series of three shows, the first being China. The birth of an Empire, September 2006 to February 2007, held in Rome at the Scuderie del Quirinale. The Rome exhibition presented the evolution of Chinese civilisation in a period of great complexity and splendour from the Zhou period (1045-256/221 BC), the last pre-imperial dynasty, to the two imperial dynasties of the Qin (221-206 BC) and the Western Han (206 BC– 24 AD). During those 1,000 years, the first great empire was shaped and consolidated with an administrative structure that lasted for the next twenty-one centuries. The Palazzo Strozzi exhibition examines the period of great change from the Eastern Han (25-220 AD) to the Tang dynasty (618-907). In 220 the great Han empire, when Chinese civilisation had undergone great changes, was destroyed by domestic and external pressures. During the following centuries (the Chinese equivalent of the Middle Ages), China was politically divided: the south had native dynasties and the north had foreign populations until 589, when the Sui Dynasty (581-618) reunified the Chinese territory and laid the foundations for a great and renewed empire. This was inherited by the Tang dynasty (618-907) which ushered in the ‘Golden Age’, during which China became the cultural centre of western Asia whose influences spread as far as the Mediterranean.

The exhibition opens with some important works from the Eastern Han period (25-220 AD) including a procession of bronze chariots and horses found in the tomb of Levitai in Wuwei in Gangsu, and a powerful mythical stone creature which used to watch over the eternal sleep of a nobleman from Luoyang (Henan).

A very important section is dedicated to the arrival of Buddhism in China. Initially seen as one of the many Taoist cults, Buddhism spread in China after the fall of the Han empire, deeply affecting cultural values. The 27 sculptures in the exhibition (some are more than 2 metres high and have never left China before) date from the end of the 5th to the 9th century and come from important sites, such as the Maijishan caves in the Gansu provence, the Longmen cave temples, the Dahai temple in the Henan or from the temple of Anguo in Shaanxi, and together illustrate the evolution of Chinese Buddhist sculpture.

The opulence of the Tang court features prominently in the exhibition. The finest gold and silver archeological finds show the renewed contacts with the west, especially with Sasanid Persia. In this period, the Tang silversmiths and goldsmiths reached unequalled levels of refinement, as is shown in the splendid treasures found in the crypt of the Pagoda of Famensi, and at Dingmao bridge, near Zhenjiang (Jiangsu).

The same skills are evident in the earthenware sculptures created to accompany the dead on their last journey that have been found intact in the tomb of Tang nobility. Among these are sculptures representing men from different parts of the world with typical clothes and hair, big noses, long beards, often accompanied by magnificent horses and impressive camels. Religious tolerance is also illustrated in the image of a Zoroastrian fire ritual with a priest represented as half bird, half man, on the lintel of the tomb of Anjia, Sogdian official in the capital Changan.

The exhibition culminates with four frescoes of the Tang period and four paintings on stone.

Palazzo Strozzi Web Site

Contact: Palazzo Strozzi
Piazza Strozzi
50123 Firenze
Tel: (39) 055 277 64 61

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