I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the Chinese collection on the first floor of the Gallery. It turned out to be absolutely fascinating. Our appreciation of the exhibits was certainly enhanced as just after we’d started to look at the exhibits the guided tour arrived. We latched on to it and benefited greatly by the knowledge and expertise of the guide who was an excellent communicator, explaining the history and context of the works she highlighted.
There’s also a very good online guide to the collection. This tells us that
Sir Peter Moores, founder of Compton Verney, began collecting a small number of Chinese bronzes in the 1990s; and in the years since, Compton Verney has amassed one of the largest and most important groups outside China.
The core of the collection are bronze ritual vessels from the golden age of Chinese bronze production between 1200 and 221 BC. However, there were some pieces on display even older than this. I don’t know how they date the vessels, but assuming that the dating is correct, the quality of the castings, and the intricacy of the design of the vessels and the details of the ornamentation is incredible demonstrating highly developed casting and metalworking technology, the skill of the craftsmen and the sophistication of the Chinese civilisation.
Here’s some more background information from the downloadable guide
Vessels made from bronze for use in rituals were among the most highly prized and technically sophisticated objects manufactured in early China. As important to the Chinese as stone temples and sculpture were to their contemporaries in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, these vessels have had a
profound and continuing influence on Chinese art.
The spirits of ancestors were seen as a powerful force by the ancient Chinese. Their help was sought by offering food and wine served from bronze vessels at elaborate ritual feasts. When members of the elite died, sets of bronze vessels were also put into tombs, further strengthening the bond between life and afterlife.
The vessels on display were not everyday objects and their ritual use no doubt meant they were carefully looked after and, hence, were preserved in excellent condition,
Here’s a few photos of some of the pieces from the extensive collection that particularly took my eye
I loved the colouring of this vessel – a rich textured marbled green patina
This was the oldest item in the collection – it’s thousands of years old – Neolithic or early
The next two pieces are ‘cocoon’ or ‘duck’s egg’ vessels. Their shape is based on traditional leather vessels.
Besides the large number of wine vessels, the collection included other items.
This bronze representation of a horse made for the tomb of a nobleman. It was probably part of a team of two or four pulling a chariot for the deceased to use in the afterlife.
It was made in nine close-fitting sections which were then riveted together. (Information from the collection guide booklet)
This tiny bronze bird is a finial that would have been “perched” on top of a pole during the funeral procession of a respected elderly man.
There were also several bells and mirrors – this cabinet contained some examples of the former
These warriors on horseback were from the tomb of a nobleman. Smaller examples of the funeral goods used in such tombs, the most famous being the “Terracotta Warriors” (examples of which I saw in Liverpool a few years ago)
Another look at the two warriors from the entrance to the gallery. From the Ming dynasty, 1400-1500 AD, they represent two of the Four Heavenly Kings (si tianwang) who watch over the earth from the four directions.
Amazing. Was that all collected since the 1990s?
I believe so. They’ve amassed a lot of objects since then!