Qianlong 173695 Qing dynasty 1644-1911 Chen Zuzhang (active 18th century). It's an olive pit in the form of a boat, just 1.6 x 3.4 x 1.4 cm.
Qianlong 173695 Qing dynasty 1644-1911 Chen Zuzhang (active 18th century). It's an olive pit in the form of a boat, just 1.6 x 3.4 x 1.4 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei

Sydney exhibition opens the world to intricate Chinese art

INTRICATE, yet simplistic, the collection of unique artefacts from Taipei's National Palace Museum reveals a world as old as 5000 years ago.

The Heaven and earth in Chinese art exhibition is open at the NSW Art Gallery in Sydney, from today through to May 5. It is the first time this collection has been shown in the southern hemisphere.

Qing dynasty 1644-1911 Wang Chengpei (died 1805) Spring fortune collected in a brocade handscroll, ink and colours on paper.
Qing dynasty 1644-1911 Wang Chengpei (died 1805) Spring fortune collected in a brocade handscroll, ink and colours on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei

The works were gathered by emperors over the centuries and for a very long time seen only by the imperial elite.

What you will see is certainly a celebration of the incredibly rich heritage of Chinese civilisation through the ancient concept of tian ren he yi - unity or harmony between heaven, nature and humanity - Heaven and earth in Chinese art presents a series of 87 artworks including paintings, calligraphy, illustrated books, bronzes, ceramics, jade and wood carvings, dating from the Neolithic period to the nineteenth century.

Ming dynasty 13681644'Portrait of the Hongzhi Emperor (reign 14881505) hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk, 209.8 x 154.4 cm.
Ming dynasty 13681644'Portrait of the Hongzhi Emperor (reign 14881505) hanging scroll, ink and colours on silk, 209.8 x 154.4 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei

This is not a huge exhibition says Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand. "We want to give our visitors the chance to really appreciate the masterpieces here with time rather than feeling that they have to rush through to be able to see a thousand works of art," he said.

"This is one of the most refined exhibitions that we have ever staged here."

I found a few surprising pieces among the superb display of carvings, ceramics, paintings and calligraphy.

Qing dynasty 1644-1911, Meat-shaped stone.
Qing dynasty 1644-1911, Meat-shaped stone. National Palace Museum, Taipei

The emperor's curious box has 28 tiny replica items tucked neatly into their own section of the beautifully carved box; the olive pit minutely carved into a boat full of passengers, furniture and doors that open and close; and a 20m scroll of such intricate artwork that it was hard to walk away without savouring every part of the work.

The most unusual one was the meat-shaped stone carved from jasper which looks distinctly like a piece of pork sitting on a gold crown.

For information on ticket prices and exhibition times, go to artgallery.nsw.gov.au.


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