Thursday, November 1, 2007

Philadelphia --- Museum of Art , Part III

Continuing on with our visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which I have posted about previously here and here, I want to show you some things that do not hang on the walls. Specifically a few photos from the Asian Art section which occupies 25 galleries.

Sometimes I don't like to think about how so many of these items end up in museums, especially museums in the United States of America. I am sure they are acquired by legitimate purchase, or so I hope. But often I wonder why they are for sale in the first place, especially religious items.

Of course some make perfect sense. For example, the Temple of Dendur is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York because it was rescued from being buried under the water when the High Dam near Aswan, Egypt was constructed.

But how may I ask does an Indian temple get to be in a Philadelphia museum? The image below is from the online website of the museum since it was extremely dark in the gallery and below that the description from the catalogue regarding the temple which comes from Madurai, in the province of Tamil Nadu in Southern India.

At the heart of the Museum’s rich collections of Indian art stands a magnificent temple hall, the only example of South Indian stone architecture to be found in an American museum. It is made up of elements acquired by a Philadelphia family traveling in India in the early years of the twentieth century.

This evocative space is a reconstruction from the ruins of three shrines that were built in the ancient city of Madurai, in southern India. All three shrines date from about 1525–50.

Yes indeed. Acquired by a very wealthy Philadelphia family while travelling in India.

In the same gallery as the temple was this perfect 11th century bronze of Lord Rama, also from Tamil Nadu. Bronzes from this era are considered peak creations of Indian art according to the Museum catalogue.

The above were posted especially for my blog friend Vijay, a radiologist who lives in Salem in the province of Tamil Nadu.

But the Asian Galleries contain items acquired from other countries besides India. Sunkaraku, or Evanescent Joys, is the name of this beautiful Japanese ceremonial teahouse. It is very popular with visitors to the Museum and when we entered and asked what special highlights were in the Museum, since obviously we could not see them all, we were told not to miss this.

The teahouse was acquired by the Museum directly from the architect Ogi Rodo who constructed it using elements from an eighteenth-century teahouse. Rodo designed country retreats and teahouses for wealthy leaders of the political and financial world of early twentieth-century Japan. Below we have the side garden of the teahouse.

Sunkaraku sits in a large gallery lit by daylight along with a Japanese temple, which you can see in the right foreground of the photo below.

The interior of the temple which is from the Muromachi period or late 14th century to late 16th century. Rather dark I'm afraid.

This image is taken from the Museum website to give you a better idea of the interior.

Finally for this post we have an oasis of serenity, the Chinese Scholar's study with this late eighteenth century example from Beijing. The walls are actually hinged panels with silk covered lattice work at the top and painted landscapes at the bottom. The long narrow table is designed for painting or for looking at scrolls, some of which you can see in the wood holder on the floor nearby.

The space was very dark so the photo is not brilliant but I liked the space and the items with which they had furnished it.

I think you can tell that I really liked this Museum and would have been happy to have spent much more time there. I hope you are not losing interest for there is one more post to come. Just five small galleries house the next fascinating collection, Arms and Armour. So Part IV soon, I hope.


Liz said...

That looks like my sort of museum.

The acquisition of pieces by rich travellers is dubious but I suspect museums worldwide have similarly acquired artefacts in their collections. Or worse!

Sienna said...

That is an amazing museum, it must be huge...I love to do an initial tour with a guide, then follow up at my own leisure; eg as I did with the Louvre.

I think I would definitely need the guide for this one... an Indian Temple! What beautiful pieces and displays, easily lose myself for a week there.

Thankyou for your tour!


Carver said...

Another great post JMB. I'm glad you raised the question about how the art is acquired. There have been stories about cases where it isn't always an exactly above board purchase in terms of originally. Private collectors have, at times, donated objects to museums which were purchased during war times from people who didn't acquire them in legitimate sales. I wish I could remember more details from the 60 minutes story I saw decades ago. It didn't involve the Philadelphia museum but it made me look at exhibits in all museums in the U.S. in a somewhat different light. That said, I enjoyed seeing the various exhibits from different countries which you posted.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid to say that I have lost interest - could you go to a porno cinema next time?

Ellee said...

I think you would like the museum in Cambridge, there is a fantastic Egyptology section.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

India is a place I really want to go, along with Africa.
Not sure which I want to go to first.

I suspect the items were purloined by the East India Company and went west with Scottish noblemen and the like.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Certainly not losing interest! And the photos are fine. The temple is truly amazing but I think I like the Chinese study best.

Gledwood said...

Great stuff!

I was lucky enough to go to Tamil Nadu about 7 years ago... I stayed in this village called Mamalapuram which is famous for stonecarving... lots of amazing statues there!!

Plus a thing called "Krishna's Butterball"!

Janice Thomson said...

Wow I would loved to have seen the Asian Galleries! The shoji panels in the temple were beautiful Jmb. The Buddha is an absolutely stunning piece of work as well. I have really enjoyed this tour Jmb and will be sad to see it end.

Count James d'Estaing said...

Wonderful teahouse, JMB. I love that sort of thing.

jmb said...

Hi Liz,
It was a really great museum. I remember when I first saw the Rosetta stone it had a long explanation about how basically the French pinched from the Egyptians and then the English pinched it from the French.

Hi Pam,
They didn't seem to have guides there that day but they did have a good guide pamphlet and they did have a good information desk too.

Hi Carver,
As I said I think there American collectors just had so much money that people sold them all kinds of things they should not have.

Hi Mutley,
I wouldn't know where to find a porno cinema to write about, so you'll just have to find one for yourself.

Hi Ellee,
I'm sure I would like the Cambridge museum as I never met a museum yet I didn't like. The best Egyptian museum I ever went to (and I have been to the Cairo museum, but it was not so good in those days, early sixties) is the Egyptian museum in Turin. It is supposed to be the best in the world after Cairo, which no doubt has improved since I was there.

Hi Crushed,
A dilemma I'm sure, India or Africa. I'd say go for Africa but India would be tempting too.
I do try not to think about how these treasures end up in other countries and just enjoy them.

Hi Welshcakes,
I loved the Chinese scholar's study too. Such an elegant room and the furniture was so beautiful and it was all so tidy!

Hi Gleds,
You are lucky to have been to India and Tamil Nadu. I'm sure you are including it in your memoirs so I'll be able to read all about it.

Hi Janice,
I had lots of other photos of Asian furniture and beautiful objects but some were no so good because of the no flash rule. I need a tripod but don't want to carry it around!

Hi James,
The teahouse was a very special place and I'm glad we didn't miss it. The display was excellent which is one thing they do really well now in Museums.

Thanks to all of you for visiting and commenting.

scott davidson said...

In a way, for an art-lover like myself, decorating our home is quite easy. I just please myself mostly, with my poor husband going along with most of my choices. I am always collecting beautiful things, like handicraft decorative pieces, little sculptures and hangings.
And I simply hang lovely paintings in all our rooms. Not all are originals of course, as who can afford many of those.
I order many prints on canvas from who have a vast collection of images from Western art, that you can choose to make economically-priced prints like this Interior in Aubergines, by Henri Matisse,, from there.
I can choose the frames as well and my orders are delivered quickly to my home.