From Tomb to Temple: Unearthing Ancient China through the Vanderbilt University Fine Art Collection

Horse with Rider, Western Han dynasty
(206 BCE - 9 CE)
Earthenware with pigment
13-1/2" x 11-3/4" x 4-1/2"
Gift of Chauney P. Lowe

(June 19 – October 12, 2014)

History of Art Alumni Lecture and Gallery Talk: “Chinese Funerary Art in its Cultural and Architectural Context”
October 9, 2014 at 4 p.m. in Cohen 203

In distant times, the universe, according to popular Chinese legend, was an enormous egg. One day the egg split open; its upper half became the sky, its lower half the earth, and from it emerged Pangu, primordial man. Every day he grew ten feet taller, the sky ten feet higher, and the earth ten feet thicker. After eighteen thousand years, Pangu died. His head split and became the sun and moon, while his blood filled the rivers and seas. His hair became the forests and meadows, his perspiration the rain, his breath the wind, and his voice the thunder – and his fleas our ancestors.

-Michael Sullivan, An Introduction to Chinese Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961) 25.

A people’s origin legends generally give a clue as to what they think is most important. The above legend is no exception. It expresses a typically Chinese viewpoint – namely that man is not the culminating achievement of creation, but is integral to the natural world. Spirituality is found in nature, from the circular dome of heaven wherein celestial bodies revolve, to the earth below on which mountains and rivers were formed. Objects on display in this exhibit represent the divine forces of heaven and earth, gods and ancestors.
China looks back upon the oldest continuous artistic tradition existing in the world today. Other civilizations predated the Chinese, but only in China does a current civilization extend back in unbroken continuity for well over four thousand years. Many characteristics of ancient Chinese art have persisted or recurred throughout centuries. This exhibition samples two concentrations that distinguish the gallery’s holdings: the personalized sculpture of the tomb, and universalized objects of the temple. It is arranged with respect to these subcategories, while emphasizing the relationship between tomb, temple, and divine mountains.

From Tomb to Temple: Unearthing Ancient China through the Vanderbilt University Art Collection is organized by the Department of History of Art in conjunction with the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery. This exhibition is curated by students of the course “Exhibiting Historical Art: The Sculptural Traditions of Imperial China” :  Hana Betts, ’15; Corey Bowen, ’15; Jessica DeAngelo, ’15; Lucy Gonzalez, ’16; Emily Grant, ’16; Jenna Lindley, ’14; MingYang Lu, ’15; Elisa Marks, ’14; Laura Payne, ’14; and Alex Penn, ’15.