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June 9th, 1999
East Asian and Middle Eastern Art

Delicate jade carvings, porcelains, carpets, ink paintings and sculptures are presented amidst spectacular architectural settings in the Galleries of East Asian Art. This extensive collection dates to the American public's fascination with all things "Oriental" evident at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, and was formalized as a curatorial department at the Museum in 1917. The Galleries feature an evolving array of installations, drawn from the Museum's rich collections, that illustrate and explore the many facets of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian, Persian and Turkish art.

Three centuries of ceramics and fine hardwood furniture from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) are among the most celebrated components in the Museum's collection, while the vast Reception Hall from a Nobleman's Palace (also from the Ming dynasty) and a Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911) Scholar's Study help us to see objects in their original context. Recent acquisitions, such as a pair of Imperial bowls dating to the reign of the K'ang-Hsi Emperor (1662-1722) and a 16th-century Ming dynasty painting table, have further distinguished the Chinese galleries.

Exquisitely painted scrolls and screens, decorative arts and fine modern design, as well as evocative period structures present the achievements of Japanese artists from the 12th through 20th centuries. The Ceremonial Teahouse named "Evanescent Joys" (Sunkaraku in Japanese) was brought to the Museum from Japan in 1928 and is surrounded by a bamboo garden. Recent acquisitions include a pair of fusuma paintings from the Muromachi period (1392-1573), examples of calligraphy by literati painters Ike no Taiga and Nukina Kaioku, a 16th-century Iga ware tea storage jar, and a lacquer writing box designed by Hon'ami Koetsu.

The Museum's collection of Korean art has also been richly augmented over the past decade, and the Galleries of East Asian Art feature important examples of Korean ceramics, lacquer and sculpture. A particular highlight is a rare 15th-century cast-iron Tiger, acquired in 1995.

In the 1940s and 1950s, groups of outstanding Persian and Turkish carpets came to the Museum through the generosity of collectors Joseph Lees Williams and John D. McIlhenny. These important acquisitions, including the showpiece Tree Carpet from Persia (16th-17th centuries), established Philadelphia as a renowned center for the study of great Middle Eastern rugs and complement an architectural installation of Tile Mosaic Panels said to have once adorned a 16th-century Sufi monastery.

Recent major exhibitions have included Quest for Eternity: Chinese Ceramic Sculpture (1987), and Japanese Design: A Survey Since 1950 (1994), which traveled to three European venues as well as to Japan. From late July through October, 2000, the Department of East Asian Art will present The Arts Hon'ami Koetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master, the first exhibition in the United States of calligraphy, lacquer and ceramics by the celebrated 17th-century artist.

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