Lecture Benedetta Mottino
On Wednesday 8 March, Benedetta Mottino, Chinese art specialist of Bonhams, will be visiting Amsterdam. A perfect opportunity to give a lecture for the members of the Asian Art Society. Benedetta Mottino will speak about Chinese 18th Century Art for Imperial Consumption.
The lecture will be in English. Members are allowed to bring a friend.
19:30 Start lecture Benedetta Mottino, Chinese 18th Century Art for Imperial Consumption
The talk focuses on the arts produced in 18th century China for consumption by the foreign Imperial court of the Qing dynasty. The objects include some of the finest examples of porcelain wares, metal works, carvings in precious and semi-precious stones and textiles. In shape and decoration, these objects underscore a high degree of influence from Han Chinese culture. The lecture therefore aims at illumining the ways in which Han traditional elements were ingeniously manipulated by the foreign rulers as powerful means laying the foundation for one of the most prosperous reigns in Chinese history.
The objects are examined according to their reference to the three main aspects of Han culture, namely governance, religion and cultural values, which the Qing integrated to their own society. The first section, including ritual food and drink vessels, dragon robes and seals, underscores the foreign rulers’ manipulation of Confucian state ideologies as means to be accepted as model rulers. Reinterpreting archaic forms and decoration, the Manchu adopted the Chinese rituals as a way to reinforce the values of antiquity and the right to rule by the heavenly mandate. The dragon, primary symbol of Chinese Imperial authority, in grasp of a pearl symbolising wisdom, is ubiquitously found on daily utensils and ceremonial robes, acting as a metaphor for the good ruler who behaved wisely for the well-being of his subjects. By the same token, the seals owned by the Manchu rulers recalled those used by the previous rulers of the Ming dynasty as reinforcement of their legitimacy to rule by divine right.
The second section focuses on the religious imagery occurring on Qing objects, which includes Buddhist and Daoist subjects. Whilst Tibetan Buddhism may have been adopted by the Manchu rulers as means guaranteeing solidarity with their Mongol and Tibetan allies, it was the Pure Land branch of the religion that continued to be popular in China during the Qing, most probably, for its relation to the ideal state of Daoism, China’s oldest religion, concerning the pursuing of immortality and longevity. Images of Guanyin, female saviour for the souls wishing to attain salvation in the land of the Amithaba Buddha, and lotus flowers, whose calyx transported the souls of the believers to the holy land, were an extremely popular subject in 18th century China. Most closely influenced by Daoist beliefs were the images depicting the immortal land inhabited by the Queen Mother of the West and the group of Eight Immortals, legendary beings possessing supernatural powers.
The third and last section examines the symbolism conveyed by the landscape scenes, which decorated scholarly objects such as jade boulders, table screens, brush pots, brush rests and ink stones, and the use of floral and animal subjects, which abounded on a variety of daily use implements. The mountain scenes remind of the importance attributed to them by the Chinese as manifestation of nature’s vital energy and gateways to the immortal realm; in addition, they recall the universal longing of Chinese cultivated men to escape their quotidian world to commune with nature where they forged their identity as poets, painters and calligraphers. Lastly, the extensive use of floral and animal vocabulary indicates the Manchu’s appropriation of the Chinese decorative system, which is based on the use of images conveying auspicious symbolism to wishes relating to daily needs, such as happiness, longevity, abundance and fertility, through their intrinsic qualities or the homophonic nature of the Chinese language.
Indeed, the foreign rulers’ determination to embody Confucian monarchs and engaging with the Chinese values of the past proved successful in fulfilling their aim to rule over 150 million Chinese subjects and create a golden age that lasted for almost three centuries.
Benedetta Mottino has a D.Phil (Ph.D) and Masters degree in Chinese Archaeology, respectively from the University of Oxford and the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Prior to joining Bonhams as specialist in the Chinese Art Department in London, she curated private Asian Art collections in France, worked as assistant curator at the Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Contemporary Art Foundation in Italy, and as cataloguer at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Benedetta continues to be academically active in the field of Chinese Archaeology, participating and lecturing at leading museums and international conferences.