Paul Halsall

Brooklyn College/Core Studies 9

[Image] Core 9: Chinese Culture

Museum Exercise

Brooklyn College students are fortunate to live in New York with access to what is without doubt the greatest museum in the Americas, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Fifth Avenue at 79th St.) The Museum is perhaps most famous for its collection of European paintings, but it also has world class holdings in many other areas - Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Islamic, and Sub-Saharan African cultures to name just a few. It also has an extensive collection of Asian art which the Museum has been expanding rapidly and aggressively over the past few years. Unfortunately, this means that this semester some of its galleries are closed for renovation - those dealing with Chinese painting for instance. Still there is more than enough to make your visit - which is necessary for this exercise - a worthwhile experience.

Your exercise here is to visit the Chinese art collection, and to locate certain objects. I have provided three maps of the relevant galleries. There are a number of questions about these objects. Some need just one word answers, but a number (marked with an *) need to be answered at length, and with a coherently put together paragraph. You may retype the questions throughout your handed in response, or you can access this document electronically at the course World Wide Web page (URL



This is the place to start (although you can wander around first to see which parts you find most interesting). On the north side of the staircase is a series of Chinese objects from various periods. Because they are small, you may not think them worth much time, but the more you look, the more you will see.



You proceed next to the balcony of the Main Hall. Arranged around the balcony is a complete history of Chinese pottery. Since most of these objects are small, there is, once again, a temptation to ignore them. But ask yourself why all this pottery has survived, and what sort of society could have produced it, and it becomes much more interesting.



The statues in the Sackler Gallery are immediately impressive. In order to complete the exercise you will need to examine these objects closely, and then compare them with some of the Indian and South Asian objects in the adjoining South Asian galleries.

There is no map provided of the South Asian galleries - these you will have to navigate yourself!


Answer all questions asked. Added comments about the various objects are encouraged, and will affect your grade.. Much of the information you will need is contained on the information notices attached to each display case, and to each object (or on the wall near the statues.) In a few cases I have cited the Museum number of an object. This takes the form of the year of acquisition, (sometimes month of acquisition), and then number of the acquisition, for instance the Maitreya you need to look at for question is numbered 1991.75. These questions follow the order of maps 1, 2, and 3 above. I suggest you take notes as you walk around.

1. Look closely at the objects in the cases on the north side of the Grand Staircase. What types of material are used in these objects? Why do you think these materials were used? Which groups in society would have had access to such materials?*

2. Now look at the Qing [or Ch'ing] vases on the south side of the Grand Staircase. Explain the difference in meaning between the words "monochrome" and "polychrome". Who were the monochrome vases made for? Who were the patterned and polychrome vases made for? What do your answers to these questions tell you about China's place in the world economy in the 18th century?* Which vases do you think are most elegant?* Explain why.

3. Proceed to the balcony of the Main Hall, and walk to the north, past the Korean pottery, to the beginning of the display of Chinese pottery at case 1. Look at the Zhou (Chou) dynasty pots in case 1. How old are they? How did they survive so long? What were the uses of the various pots displayed? How do the Zhou pots differ from all the other pottery you look at?*

4. Move on to the Tang cases (esp. case 6). How does the manufacture of these pots differ from the Zhou period? What colors are used? Why do you think these colors were used? What are the figures portrayed doing? What sort of society do you think they represent?*

5. Moving on look at the pottery of the Song (Sung) and Yuan (Yüan) dynasties, but go especially to case 32. Look at the two figures of Pu-t'ai and Bodhidharma. What do the statuettes have in common? How do they differ? What distinct aspects of Chinese Buddhism does each statue suggest.*

6. Move now to the "Dragon" Vase in the South East corner. How did the vase arrive in Europe? What do the circumstances of its exchange suggest about the relative power of Europe and China in the 18th century?*

7. Moving past much Qing pottery, go now to case 42. There are two images of the God of Wealth. What is difference between them? How is this expressed in artistic terms?

8. Leaving the Balcony, proceed to the Arthur Sackler gallery. On the left as you enter are two large seated bodhisattvas. When were these images made? Where? What is a bodhisattva?

9. Now look at the gold standing Buddha. When was this made? Where? Note anything distinctive about the following features of the Buddha - his hands, ears, arm length, shape of head. What is he standing on? What is his right hand doing? And his left hand? What is he wearing? What impact does the statue make on you?*

10. Move on to look at the huge mural painting which dominates the whole gallery. [To see something similar, but with more of the color intact, look at the Tibetan art galleries after you have finished this exercise]. There is a lot of detail in the picture and you need to look at it for a few minutes. When was this picture made? Where does it come from? Which Buddha is represented in the center of the picture? What is his function as a divine being? What do the positions of his hands indicate? Who are the two bodhisattvas sitting on either side of the central figure?

11. Now look at the large stele of Maitreya in the left center of the gallery. What is a "stele"? Who is Maitreya? Can you suggest an analogy with a figure in western religions?*

12. Finally in this gallery, go and look at the statute of "Kuan Yin" in the South-east corner. What is Kuan Yin carrying in the left hand? On what is the statue standing? What is the statute wearing? Look closely at the headdress of the statute. Who is sitting in the middle? What is Kuan Yin's religious function? What gender is this statue? What factors make you decide on the gender of the statue?*

Now move to the South Asian galleries, which lie directly to the north of the Sackler gallery. Although these go on for many rooms [and I recommend that you explore them all], for this exercise you need only visit the first room. There is no map for this gallery, but the objects you need to look at are easy to find.

13. Look at the large statue of Maitreya facing you as you enter. (no. 1991.75). When was this made? Where? What artistic influences does it show [look at the clothes!]? What is Maitreya wearing (clothes and ornaments)? How does this statute compare with the one you saw in the Sackler gallery?*

14. Now look at the Standing Buddha which is the next major statute in the center of gallery (no. 1979.6). Where is this statue from? When? What is the name of the gesture the Buddha is making with his right hand? What does it mean? What sort of clothes is this Buddha wearing? Note anything special about his arms, head, hands, and ears. Compare this statue with the Buddha statue you looked at in the Sackler gallery*. What connections can you see. Given that it is extremely unlikely that the artist who made the Chinese Buddha (the one in the Sackler gallery) ever saw the Indian one, how do you think the influence might have been exercised?*

15. Finally, look at the red statute of Avalokitesvara, (no. 1994.24.5) [just the body - the "torso" survives] mounted on the wall to the North-east of the Standing Buddha. When and where was this statute made? What is the gender of this statue? Compare it with the Kuan Yin statue you saw in the Sackler gallery?*

You have now looked at all the objects for this exercise. Answer the following general questions.

16. How do the statues of Buddha and the various bodhisattvas differ?*

17. What was the relationship of Chinese art to Indian art?*

Your visit to the Chinese art galleries is over. I suggest that you explore other areas of the Museum. Just beyond the first South Asian gallery which I had you visit, are series of galleries with very impressive Indian Hindu statues. For the Core 9 course, though, you should visit the Islamic art galleries. To get there from the Asian galleries, walk back to the balcony of the Main Hall, walk directly across to the other side and through the Ancient Near Eastern Art galleries [You might stop briefly to look at the age of the objects in this gallery, and compare it to the ages of the Chinese objects you looked at]. In the Islamic galleries, I suggest two particular sites to visit: first the "Nur-a-Din Room", just to left as you enter, and secondly the pottery room in gallery 8.

Here is an extra credit question: - What relationship can you see between the Chinese and Islamic pottery?