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Past exhibition

Special Exhibition
Cherished Objects: New Acquisitions of the National Palace Museum
Finding Prester John: Asia in the eyes of Europeans
After 7 months of travel, the Franciscan missionary William de Rubruquis (circa 1215-1257) reached the encampment of Möngke Khan (1209–1259) in the Mongolian grasslands, and was first received in audience by Möngke Khan on January 4, 1254. On the orders of King Louis IX of France (1214-1270), de Rubruquis departed from Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in May 1253.
After centuries of vainly fighting against Muslims, the legend of Prester John began circulating in Christian Europe of the time. According to this legend, Prester John from the East would lead legions to help Christians defeat Muslims and reclaim the holy city of Jerusalem. With the rise of Genghis Khan (1162-1227) in the early 13th century, and the rumor that a descendant of Genghis Khan had converted to Christianity, Mongolian Khans became Prester John in the imagination of European kings. De Rubruquis bore a letter by King Louis IX and set out on a missionary journey. He also shouldered the mission to build an alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims.
Neither missionary work nor an alliance were achieved. However, it was this enthusiastic search for Prester John that led to contact between Europe and the Far East, and allowed Europeans to gradually accumulate knowledge about the East. Then came the Age of Discovery, and after India, Europeans began learning about the islands of Southeast Asia, then the islands of Japan, and the Korean Peninsula. That was also when Formosa (Taiwan) came within the sight of Europeans.

Journey to the East: East Asian Buddhist Art
In the mid–ninth century, Candragupta, a monk from the central Indian kingdom of Magadha, visited the Nanzhao kingdom (738–902) in present-day Yunnan. According to Ming dynasty records, Candragupta taught the yoga tantra in Nanzhao, detailing the subjugation of evil, the accumulation of benefits, attracting the desired, and the prevention of disaster. He was revered by Fengyou, the king of Nanzhao (r. 824–859) and honored as the nation’s preceptor. Candragupta’s portrait can be found in The Scroll of Buddhist Images (c. 1172–1176), by Zhang Shengwen of Dali Kingdom, in the National Palace Museum collection. Candragupta was one of the eight masters that brought Buddhism to Yunnan.
Buddhism made its way to China from India via Central Asia. A local version of Buddhism was developed during the Northern and Southern, Sui, and Tang dynasties, and then spread to Korea and Japan. Although some scholars have argued that Ming dynasty records contain exaggerated descriptions of Candragupta and that Yunnan Buddhism was mainly influenced by China rather than India, research shows that in the later period of the Nanzhao kingdom, a growing sense of nationalism gave rise to a myth that Guanyin had manifested as an Indian monk in order to confer power on the Nanzhao king, which in turn led to the creation of the Acuoye Guanyin and Yizhang Guanyin faith that is unique to the region. Candragupta is undoubtedly the most well-known of the Indian monks who spread Buddhism in Yunnan. The Five Tathāgatas on the crown of the Yizhang Guanyin may signify Candragupta’s transmission of the yoga tantra.

Nepalese-style Buddhist Iconography: Tibetan Buddhist Art in China
In the summer of 1253, Mongol prince Kublai (1215–1294) led a large number of troops to the southern Gansu, ready to move south to invade the Dali Kingdom (937–1254). While there, Kublai invited to the court Drogön Chogyal Phagpa (1235–1280), who was in Gansu and had just become the leader of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Phagpa was born into the Khon family, hereditary heads of the Sakya school. In 1244, Mongol prince Godan (1206–1251), who was guarding the Hexi Corridor, wrote to the then leader of the Sakya School, Sakya Pandita (1182–1251), asking him to travel from Tibet to Liangzhou to “point to a path”. Compelled by Mongol military might, the elderly Sakya Pandita took his two young nephews, one of them Phagpa, and set off for Liangzhou. In 1247, Sakya Pandita and Godan held the famous “Liangzhou talk”, in which Tibet was forced to become a vassal state of the Mongol Empire, but the status of the various Tibetan Buddhist schools was left intact, and Godan himself converted to Tibetan Buddhism.
When the 18-year-old Phagpa took over as the Sakya leader, he was able to eloquently answer Kublai’s questions at a meeting. He also bestowed on Kublai and his wife a Hevajra empowerment ritual and became their religious instructor. After Kublai took power in 1260, Phagpa was appointed national preceptor and imperial preceptor and Tibetan Buddhism started to develop in Beijing and Hangzhou. Tibetan Buddhism was influenced by Nepalese art, and with the spread of the religion to China, Nepalese-style Buddhist iconography also took root.

Elegance and Simplicity: Everyday Items of East Asia
Velvet is a unique weave that has thread woven with thin metal rods. The thread is then cut apart so the thin metal rods can be taken out. The fabric was widely beloved by Islamic and European royalties in the Middle Ages for its elegance and soft texture. Starting from the 15th Century, Italy became famous for producing high-quality Jacquard velvet fabrics. China, deeply settled in East Asia, was also familiar with various weaving techniques despite being home to silk, but Jacquard velvet was only made popular in coastal provinces such as Zhangzhou and Quanzhou through marine trade with Portuguese merchants in the 16th Century. Members of the Japanese monarchy also adored the Jacquard velvet fabrics that were exported from Europe but Portuguese merchants considered it trade secret and Japanese weaver weren’t able to learn the secret techniques. In 1639, Japanese weavers finally realized the secrets of velvet when one piece of velvet fabric as part of a silk shipment from Portugal was uncut and revealed the metal rods within.
East Asia lacquerware was also known for its intricate and ornate decorations where as Goryeo ware and Japanese tea ware was praised for its natural and simple aesthetics. These everyday items of different styles also convey drastically different taste in aesthetics.

Idyll of the Heyday: Aesthetics of the Edo Period (1603-1867)
In the autumn of 1684, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), the greatest master of haiku (then hokku), set out on one of his major wanderings along with his disciples. The journey took them from Edo (now Tokyo) to Mount Fuji, Ise, Kyoto, and back to Edo in the following summer. Along the way, many hokkus were written, and were later complied into a collection upon Basho’s return to Edo, of which he titled Account of Exposure to the Fields. Going on journeys on foot was Basho’s way of searching for inspiration, and throughout his lifetime he took several of them.
For ruling purpose, the Tokugawa Bakufu started administering routes linking Edo to other parts of the country. The five routes all started from Edo, and the one Basho walked between 1684 and 1685 was the Tokaido route, a coast route connecting Edo and Kyoto. With no major battles took place, the economy was able to grow and prosper, which in turn gave rise to business opportunities pertaining to traveling. As traveling became popular, the Ise Grand Shrine, the ancient capital, that is Kyoto, and the prosperous and bustling capital, Edo, became the most wanted destinations. The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido, an ukiyo-e woodcut print series by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), an ukiyo-e master, depicts the landscapes and travel scenes along the Tokaido route. At the time, these postcard-like landscape paintings were regarded as a momento of the journey. The series was so popular that several editions were published. The elaborateness and brilliance of the Edo period are not only captured in Japanese travel literature and ukiyo-e, but also embodied in the designs of maki-e, or lacquer art, on Japanese lacquerware and splendid kimonos.

Competitors in the Global Market: Southeast Asian Ceramics
Sometime between late 15th century and early 16th centuries, a ship carrying over 240 thousand ceramic pieces was likely caught in a storm, and drifted around helplessly near the coast of Hoi An, an important trading port in central Vietnam. With the exception of a few pieces from Thailand and China, most of these ceramic pieces were produced in central Vietnam. The ship was just one of many within a busy network of ceramic trade. In the end, it succumbed to the tempest and sank. However, it created a time capsule that allowed people to behold the apogee of Vietnamese ceramics centuries later.
By the second half of the 14th century, the northern Vietnamese relied on their rich experience and full-fledged underglaze iron to quickly grasp the technique of underglaze cobalt blue, becoming the first place to produce blue-and-white porcelain outside China. Northern Vietnamese potters took advantage of the gap in the market when the Ming Dynasty’s maritime trading bans forced Chinese blue-and-white ceramics out of the foreign trade market. Vietnamese blue-and-white ceramics gained popularity, not only selling well in Southeast Asian islands where ceramics were not produced, but also exporting large quantities to Arabia, Turkey, and even Japan and Africa.
Thailand also seize the opportunity when Chinese ceramics exited the world market. Influenced by Longquan celadon and Jingdezhen porcelain, Thai potters produced a variety of celadon pottery and unique underglaze iron pieces which became popular in the trade market. Probably influenced by Islamic pottery, the ceramic art in Burma is a scene of its own.

Oriental Hot Cakes: the Fancy Indian Craftsmanship
In the winter of 1885, a group of 42 Indians, including dancers, musicians, jugglers, sculptors, weavers, embroiderers, carpet weavers, and musical instrument makers, arrived in London to give a series of performances. Their visit was the brainchild of Arthur L. Liberty (1843–1917), founder of Liberty & Co., who was planning to stage a “living village” of Indian artisans in order to generate publicity. However, that winter was extremely harsh, and the Indian performers were not used to the cold, so they had to wear European-style winter clothes as they performed. The “inauthentic” attire of the performers did not appeal to audiences, and the box office was a failure. The organizer refused to pay the Indian artisans in full amount, who were left destitute and staged a protest. The fiasco was reported by newspapers as far away as Bombay, and people there raised funds to enable the artisans to return home.
In the mid-17th century, high-quality hand-made products such as: textiles, jewelry, and furniture from the Far East were sought after by the European upper classes. Liberty’s failed “living village” stunt may look laughable today, but it provides a glimpse into the European craze for Asian objects d’art.

Worship without Portraying: The Aesthetics of Islamic Faith
Under the harsh natural conditions of the Arabian deserts, nomadic tribes initially emphasized the spirit of mutual caring. However, the spirit of mutual cooperation was gradually lost after merchants who became wealthy through trade became oligarchs of the oasis in the desert – Mecca. Born in Mecca, the founder of Islam - the Prophet Muhammad (circa 570-632) - was extremely pained by this situation. At age 40, he was meditating in a cave near his home one night when the Angel Gabriel came to him and relayed the word of Allah: All men are equal. Muhammad began preaching these revelations. His followers grew by the day, but he later faced hostility from the conservative oligarchs of Mecca.
In order to escape persecution, Muhammad secretly had Muslims emigrating from Mecca 330 kilometers north to Yathrib. When the oligarchs in Mecca discovered this scheme, Muhammad had to flee assassination. He set off under the cover of night on July 16, 622, hiding in a desert cave for three days and three nights before riding a camel along the Nile to avoid assailants. He finally reached Yathrib on September 24. Once there, Muhammad became the leader of Islam, building the first mosque, and changing the city’s name to Medina, which means “City of the Prophet”. Thanks to this decisive emigration, Islam finally secured a foothold. Medina became the second holy city for Muslims after Mecca. The year later became the epoch of the Islamic calendar.
The Angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad over a 23-year period until Muhammad’s death. These revelations were compiled into the Qur’an.

Weaving with Faith: Costume from the Islamic World
In 921, a mid-level official of the Islamic Abbasaid Dynasty (750-1258) - Ibn Fadlan (877-960) - set off from the capital Baghdad to Volga Bulgars in present-day Russia. Almish, the tribal leader there, had asked the Caliph (the title of Islamic rulers; originally meant “successor of the Prophet Muhammad”) in Baghdad to teach him about Islamic laws. Since enemies of the Islamic Empire dwelled at the north, Ibn Fadlan had to take the long way, spending nearly a year to arrive at his destination. On May 20, 922, Ibn Fadlan read the letter from the Caliph in Almish’s tent, and gifted the tribal leader with elaborate robes, flags, and saddles. On a Friday a few days later, Almish read out his vow to submit to the Caliphate in a mosque.
Between 630 and 720, Islamic forces swept through oasis towns across the Near and Middle East and Central Asia, as well as Egypt. However, the connection between the Caliphate and marginal tribes was actually quite loose. Marginal tribes gained political voice in the region by forming relationships with the Caliphate, while the Caliphate constantly sought alliances to secure its influence. For centuries, the gifting of elaborate robes has been an important ritual of forming relationships between tribes of Arabs and Eurasian Steppe. The Caliph and Almish were obviously familiar with this common language.
Influenced by Islamic faith, the decorative motifs on costume of central and west Asia are included floral and geometric patterns.

Vajrayāna: Himalayan Buddhist art
Tibetan King Trisong Detsen (742–797) first invited Śāntarakṣita (725–788), the abbot of India’s Nalanda monastery to Tibet. While Śāntarakṣita was a learned Buddhist scholar of Mādhyamika tradition, he was no expert at casting out demons. Before being forced to leave court as a result of several intrigues, Śāntarakṣita suggested that the king extend an invitation to esoteric Buddhism master Padmasambhava.
In 775, escorted by the envoy of the Tibetan king, Padmasambhava traveled to Tibet and subdued various demonic forces along the way. Just before Padmasambhava and his entourage arrived in Tibet, the king sent 500 cavalrymen to greet him. When the cavalrymen arrived, they were shocked by what they saw: Padmasambhava struck the ground with his wand to create a spring to slake the delegation’s thirst. At the first meeting between the Tibetan king and Padmasambhava, in his arrogance the king refused to kneel in adoration, so Padmasambhava sang a Buddhist song and raised his hand, at which moment the king’s gown caught fire. At this sight, the whole court took fright and all knelt in prostration.
Later, the Tibetan king invited Śāntarakṣita back, and the three of them worked together to build the Samye monastery in 779, the first in Tibet. They also educated monks and had the scriptures translated. Padmasambhava’s presence in Tibet accelerated the development of Buddhism and charted a path that centered on Vajrayāna Buddhism.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date 2019-10-12~2020-05-24
  • Location 3F S304
German;Drawn by Matthias Quad in 1600; published in 1608
Map of East Indies, Includes Most of Asia and the Islands Extending Southward to the Sea
  • Ink and colors on paper
  • Length 20cm, width 29cm
  • Gift of Prof. Johnnes Hajime Lizuka.
Utrecht, the Netherlands; Published in 1683
Map of the Kingdom of China
  • Ink and colors on paper
  • Length 24cm, width 19cm
  • Gift of Prof. Johnnes Hajime Lizuka.
Yunnan, China; Dali Kingdom (937-1254), 10th-11th century
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara Yizhang
  • Gilt-bronze
  • Height 54.3cm
  • Gift of Mr. Peng Kai-dong.
Qisha Edition by Qisha Yansheng Temple, 1297-1322. Translation by Jnanagupta (active during 567-592) et al.
  • Ink on paper
  • Page frame: Length 30.3cm, width 11.4cm
Korea; Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), 19th century
Chest with Dragon Motif
  • Lacquered wood with ilay of shagreen, mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell and metal
  • Length 80cm
  • Gift of Mr. Juon Yoon-zuu
Japan; do Period (1603-1867), 1847
The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaidoin Clerical Script (selection) By Utagawa Hiroshige
  • Ink and colors on pape
  • Length 22.7cm, width 35.8cm
Thailand or Cambodia; Khmer Empire (802-1432), 12th century
  • Gilt-bronze
  • Height 36.9cm
  • Gift of Mr. Peng Kai-dong
Vietnam; 15th-16th century
Kneeling Figure in Underglaze Blue
  • Porcelain
  • Height 32cm
Mid-southernVietnam; Kingdoms of Champa, 10th century
  • Electrum (Shiva's head) and Silver (Sheath)
  • Height 29.6cm
Bareilly, India; Mid-19th century
Chest on Stand
  • Wood, painted and varnished
  • Height: 86cm
Iran; Safavid Empire (1501-1736), circa 1560
  • Ink, gold and colors on paper, leather binding over pasteboard with filigree
  • Every page: Length 41.5cm, width 28.5cm
Bhutan; 19th century
Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211) and Drukpa Kagyu Lineage Masters
  • Pigments on cotton
  • Length 82.5cm, width 57.5cm