On Thursday, February 16th at 6p.m., the Susan Eckert Gallery in the Winter Visual and Performing Arts Center hosted a reception to honor the new art exhibit physical culture from Imperial China due to the graciousness of Frank and Anne Orban.
Titled “Art from Imperial China”, the exhibit features art from the third century A.D. to the current era.
Walking in the gallery, the room is filled with a veritable abundance of physical culture. Moving counterclockwise around the exhibit, one moves from Rui jade scepters to a Qing Dynasty porcelain blue-and-white glazed pillow to samovars with a Russian influence and wooden lunch baskets.
According to the Mr. Orban, “The ruyi is a symbol of good luck and a sign of authority.” It has a Buddhist heritage, with the word literally meaning “scepter”. The jade ruyi would be used by someone in authority while the wooden ruyi would be personal tokens
On display are three robes of differing symbolism. One is a contemporary Chinese opera costume of radiant red, with vibrant blue dragons dancing across the center and a hypnotic multicolored design on the bottom third.
The middle robe is that of a women’s Imperial Court winter outer robe. Colored in soft blues and pinks with large features of flowers, water, and mountains, it was Mr. Orban’s first purchase of Imperial artifacts.
“I bought the women’s robe first from a Russian ranking family. The family had fled to Manchuria. [The son] had brought assets to D.C. when he fled because of the Chinese Revolution.” Mr. Orban continued to add to his collection while in China and Hong Kong. “The price was very low because people wanted fans and watches, [they] didn’t care for old stuff. Same stuff that didn’t look so jazzy but you knew was old.”
The last robe is that of a prince, featured mostly in brown. According to Mr. Orban, princes were often adorned in brown, while women wore blue and only the Emperor wore yellow.
A unifying symbol on each of these garments is that of the five-fingered dragon. Seen as a creature associated with the heavens, dragons were symbols of good. However, only royalty could wear the five-fingered dragon known as the Leung dragon. For those of non-royal blood, the Mang or four-fingered dragon was the dragon of choice.
Mr. Orban’s favorite piece is the Chao Ban, a long piece of carved ivory that was used when speaking in front of the Emperor. During its usage, one would keep the eyes averted from the Emperor and instead speak into the Chao Ban to show proper subservience to China’s ruler. This piece of physical culture was used in court, a tidbit of information that Mr. Orban is especially fond of.
On the far side, the Dutch Map of Eurasia by J. Blaeu demonstrates the influence of the Mongolians. Although created in the seventeenth century, long after the end of the Mongolian Dynasty, the map still reflects Mongolian nomenclature.
The center is lined with Uighur rugs made in then-Chinese Turkistan. The vibrant red of the rugs was a source of Uighur symbolism. Made for export, these rugs were destined for the homes of Chinese merchants and beyond.
Upon these rugs on pedestals are saddle blankets. The three colorful Tibetan blankets are more flower-oriented, with intricate detail and a leathern hole on each side of the blanket. Conversely, while the Mongolian saddle blanket has images of large center flowers and small scrolling flowers, the space use has much less color, is simpler in design with more consolidated features including large geometric circles, and is generally a less wide blanket.
Surrounded by rich cultural symbolism, vibrant colors, and long-lasting, time-intensive physical culture, this exhibit is a perfect refuge from a busy day on campus. Lasting only until March 10th, this collection is a definite must see.