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International Experts Will Gather At
The U.Va. Art Museum For A Symposium On Shunzhi Porcelain, March 21-22

January 29, 2003-- In conjunction with the special exhibition “Treasures from an Unknown Reign: Shunzhi Porcelain,” the University of Virginia Art Museum, in Charlottesville, is organizing a symposium to further explore the artistry, culture and history of this little-known period of Chinese pottery production.

On Friday and Saturday, March 21 and 22, international scholars and major collectors of Chinese porcelain will gather to advance the understanding of this unusual period of Chinese art.

Sir Michael Butler, noted collector and diplomat, will open the symposium with a keynote address, "The Discovery of Shunzhi Porcelain,” during the late afternoon of March 21. His talk will be followed by a reception and viewing of the exhibit.

The symposium continues on Saturday, March 22, with presentations by:

Dr. Qianshen Bai, assistant professor of Chinese art at Boston University, on “Porcelain Books: Print Culture and Porcelain Production in 17th-Century China”;

Dr. Evelyn Rawski, University Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, on "Politics in the Shunzhi Era";

Rosemary Scott, senior academic consultant, Asian art departments, Christie’s; and former curator of the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, University of London; on “The Evolving Porcelain Palette in the Early Qing Period”;

Shawn Eichman, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, on “Immortals of the Wine Cup: Daoist and Buddhist Aspects of 17th-Century Chinese Porcelains”;

Dawn Ho Delbanco, adjunct assistant professor of art history at Columbia University, on "Landscape Imagery on 17th-Century Chinese Porcelain";

Dr. Julia B. Curtis, an independent scholar from Williamsburg, Va., on the change from early literati motifs to porcelain as propaganda on “Porcelains for a New Dynasty: Imperial Symbols and Propaganda for the Shunzhi and Kangxi Emperors.”

While the essays in the catalog accompanying the exhibition (including those by Curtis, Bai, and Rawski) break new ground in the study of Shunzhi porcelains, much research has continued since the catalog’s completion and will be presented at this symposium. The speakers will not duplicate their catalog essays.

The symposium precedes Asia Week in New York.

The symposium is supported by the Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation, the Gramercy Park Foundation and private donors.

Cost is $100 for museum members; $125 for non-members.

For additional information about the symposium and to register, please contact Jill Hartz, director, University of Virginia Art Museum, at (434) 243-8854 or by e-mail at Information and registration is also available on the museum’s Web page,

Background on the Shunzhi Period and the Exhibit

This period of Chinese porcelain manufacture coincided with the dramatic political upheaval that followed the collapse of the Ming Dynasty and the rise of the Manchu-dominated Qing dynasty (1644). Porcelain had yet to be developed in Europe at the time of this traumatic epoch in Chinese history.

Until the 1980s, scholars and researchers in China and the West have neglected the reign of the child emperor Shunzhi (1644-61, also known as the first Qing Emperor) because, during his era, exports were reduced and Imperial porcelain was not produced. A series of smaller exhibitions and scholarly findings since the early 1980s, validated by Captain Michael Hatcher’s recovery of 23,000 porcelain wares from a Chinese shipwreck in the South China Sea, has now enabled scholars to date these ceramics with accuracy to the Shunzhi Emperor’s reign.

The Shunzhi Symposium will examine the “transition” period, between the fall of the Ming Dynasty in the 1630s and 1640s and the consolidation of Qing rule of China in 1680,
which is now recognized as a unique period in the history of later Chinese ceramics. The conquest of China in 1644 by the Manchus, who founded the new Qing Dynasty, led to civil war and the disruption of established markets for Chinese porcelain. Imperial symbols no longer dominated the decoration of these objects. Between the 1630s and 1680, the Imperial Court was impoverished, preoccupied with survival or conquest, and unable to assert its dominance over the kilns at Jingdezhen. Its potters were forced to seek new markets for their porcelains and indeed found patronage among the literati (scholar-gentry) and the increasingly affluent merchants and collectors of Anhui province and the Yangzi valley (the Jiangwan region).

Satisfying this new market led the artists to adorn porcelains with numerous decorative motifs from China’s past: iconic figures from history and literature, deities, floral and faunal motifs, landscapes, and rhebuses (puns conveying wishes for prosperity, many sons, success in examinations, long life). These decorative schemes reflected age-old preoccupations of Chinese society, including the religions of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. During this period many objects of great beauty were made, including the style now recognized as “Shunzhi,” dominated by blue and white and wucai (underglaze blue and five-color enamel) porcelain.

Deciphering the floral decoration, identifying the animals and birds as well as the historical, religious and literary figures on 17th-century Chinese porcelains, and determining the meanings of these symbols and motifs to the society for which they were made is a new endeavor, dating only to the past 20 years. Research is complex and requires the combined efforts of art historians versed in a variety of disciplines, including scholars with knowledge of Chinese professional as well as literati painting, woodblock printing, calligraphy and seal carving; the technology of porcelain production; and the specialized area of Chinese export porcelain and the China trade. Art historians with training in literature specialize in deciphering the narrative themes (scenes from histories, novels, dramas and opera). Those with training in religion identify the religious figures and symbols on the porcelain, while those knowledgeable in the culture of the literati can explain why specific figures and motifs appear on porcelains at this particular period. An historian versed in the political, cultural and economic history of this cataclysmic century can place the century’s art history in a broad perspective. All of these areas of exploration will be represented at the symposium.

The University of Virginia Art Museum is the only East Coast showing of Treasures from an Unknown Reign: Shunzhi Porcelain, the first exhibition to describe the major evolution of painting and shapes that took place between 1644 and 1662. This major exhibition, which runs through Sunday, March 23, features more than 80 objects drawn from public and private collections in England, France and the United States, including the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Butler Family Collection, the largest and most comprehensive collection of 17th-century Chinese porcelain in the world.

“Treasures from an Unknown Reign: Shunzhi Porcelain” is organized and circulated by Art Services International, in Alexandria, Va., and generously supported by a grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. The showing at the U.Va. Art Museum is made possible with the sponsorship of the Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation. Additional support has been provided by Lane F. and Christian L. Becken, Gunilla and James Godfrey, Olivia and Leslie Grayson, Gail and David Haines, Suzanne and Frederic Berry and Felicia Rogan.

Contact: Jane Ford, (434) 924-4298

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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