Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei

by Wen C. Fong, James C. Watt, James C.Y. Watt

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
More than an exhibition catalogue, this breathtakingly beautiful volume, a major work of scholarship, offers a panoramic history of Chinese art and culture. Its 436 color plates and 190 halftones reproduce hundreds of masterpieces from the Chinese Palace Museum in Taiwanartworks that originally constituted the personal collection of 18th-century Emperor Ch'ien-lung, and were transported out of communist China to Taipei after WWII. Among the treasures are eighth-century calligraphic brush masterpieces, monumental landscape hanging scrolls of the Northern Sung (10th-11th centuries), elegant porcelain, naturalistic flower, bird and animal paintings, and life-size, robust imperial portraits. Essays by Chinese and Western art historians sweep from the Neolithic Age's magical and religious uses of jade (third millennium B.C.) to Bronze Age rituals, the paradoxical rejuvenation of art under the Mongol conquest, Buddhist and Taoist influences, Ming scholar-artists' revolt against orthodoxy and 17th-century Ch'ing emperors' use of the arts as tools for glorification of the state. The exhibition opened at New York's Metropolitan Museum and will tour nationally. Fong and Watt are curators at the Met. (June)
Library Journal
To those fortunate enough to see an exhibition, a catalog can serve as a guide or souvenir. But to those at some remove in time or distance, the catalog often represents their only contact with the exhibit and must stand as a marker of the scholarship invested in it and a visual testament of the objects displayed. To deal with these differing and conflicting roles, the exhibition of imperial treasures from China currently touring this country has two catalogs of differing length and scope. After introducing each historical period, Splendors of Imperial China highlights 107 of the 475 artworks in the exhibition and gives a short analysis of the works. Smaller ceramic and bronze pieces are shown in full, as are some painted works, but many large scrolls are shown only in detail. These details lose the larger perspective vital to understanding such wall-spanning scrolls as Huai-su's "Autobiographical Essay," a purely calligraphic portrait that progresses from small, tight characters to marvelous looping, flying ones as the painter drinks more and more wine. Possessing the Past is the inclusive scholarly text illustrating all 475 artworks. Clearly intended to have lasting value and to present in-depth information on thousands of years of Chinese art history, it lacks some of the graphic verve of Splendors. Both volumes are slightly marred by some poorly reproduced images. Splendors of Imperial China will suit general readers seeking a visual introduction to classical Chinese art, while Possessing the Past will anchor academic art history collections.David McClelland, formerly with Temple Univ., Philadelphia
School Library Journal
YA-An excellent resource for in-depth information on Chinese art. The authors provide introductory essays that give a clear background of Chinese dynastic history, the history of the Museum, and the history of the works of art. By presenting cross-cultural references, they give Western readers a wider understanding of cultural developments. For example, the authors present both the poetry and calligraphy of Su Shih, interpreting his work in terms of the context of his life. By understanding the world of the artist, students gain a knowledge of the importance of culture in the artist's life. Readers can trace the evolution of the styles through the chronological arrangement. Although this is an academic text, the vocabulary and writing style can be understood by high school students. Superb-quality full-color plates and black-and-white figures that directly relate to the narration appear throughout. An outstanding reference.-Donna Head, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
A major scholarly work, published in conjunction with the exhibition titled "Splendors of Imperial China: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei" (on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art during 1996, and scheduled for several other American cities during 1996-1997). Written by scholars of both Chinese and Western cultural backgrounds and conceived as a cultural history, the book synthesizes scholarship of the past three decades to present the historical and cultural significance of individual works of art and analyses of their aesthetic content, as well as reevaluation of the cultural dynamics of Chinese history. Includes some 600 illustrations, 436 in color. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Harry N. Abrams Incorporated
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9.53(w) x 12.39(h) x 2.07(d)

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