CHINESE BRONZE MIRRORS TO BE DONATED TO SHANGHAI MUSEUM FOLLOWING HUNTINGTON EXHIBITIONThe Huntington is the only U.S. venue for “Ancient Chinese Bronze Mirrors from the Lloyd Cotsen Collection” before the objects are transferred to China in May 2012
Nov. 10, 2011
Flat Mirror with Interlaced Birds and Vines
China, Tang dynasty (618–907)
Cast bronze with adhered, cut and chased silver sheet
The Lloyd Cotsen Collection. Photograph by Bruce M. White, 2009.
STATEMENT FROM STEVEN S. KOBLIK • STATEMENT FROM LLOYD COTSEN •
STATEMENT FROM KELUN CHEN • EXHIBITION • EXHIBITION PRESS RELEASE
SAN MARINO, Calif.—The important collection of ancient Chinese bronze mirrors going on view Nov. 12 in an exhibition at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens will be transferred to the Shanghai Museum when the exhibition closes here next May.
The Huntington is the only venue for “Ancient Chinese Bronze Mirrors from the Lloyd Cotsen Collection” before the objects go to China. The exhibition runs from Nov. 12, 2011, to May 14, 2012, in the Chandler Wing of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries at The Huntington.
Lloyd Cotsen, the Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist whose collection the works comprise, said that one of the main reasons he chose to donate the collection to the Shanghai Museum was “because it is one of China’s major cultural institutions. It is splendid by world standards, and its commitment to public education particularly impresses me. Shanghai Museum staff are prepared to produce programs from which people can learn about the objects and the artistic setting. I remain dedicated to public education and appreciate the Shanghai Museum’s efforts to expand the horizons for its visitors.”
The Cotsen collection contains 95 intricately decorated early bronze mirrors, ranging in date from the Qijia Culture (2100–1700 B.C.) of pre- and early Chinese history, the Warring States period (480–221 B.C.), and the Han (206 B.C.–A.D. 220), Tang (618–906), and Jin (1206–1234) dynasties. On display in the exhibition are 87 of the mirrors and several related textile fragments.
“We are delighted to be a part of this incredible story,” said Huntington President Steven S. Koblik. “Here is a major collector who assembled an absolutely astounding group of historical Chinese material, and he has made a decision to give it to an institution that has a very specific interest in its display and educational value. Because The Huntington is a research and educational institution, and the fruits of our scholarship come from the holdings amassed by collectors, we think this is a magnificent move and an exciting announcement to be making.”
Cotsen, a member of The Huntington’s Board of Overseers, purchased his first Chinese bronze mirrors in Hong Kong in the early 1950s while serving in the Navy during the Korean War. Today his collection contains thousands of pieces, including substantial assemblages of textiles, basketry, and folk art.
He has worked meticulously to find the right match for his various collections over the past several years. His collection of Japanese basketry recently went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco; his cuneiform tablets from the Old Babylonian period went to UCLA.
Few things provide a clearer picture of an ancient civilization than the study of its material culture: the objects that individuals created, used, and valued. “From the earliest periods of China’s history, bronze mirrors have played a significant role in reflecting, both literally and symbolically, the face of the Chinese people,” said June Li, curator of The Huntington’s Chinese garden and curator of the exhibition. In the exquisitely wrought designs and inscriptions that decorate the backs of these mirrors, centuries of craftsmanship, aesthetic taste, dynastic change, philosophy, and consumer culture are revealed.
“This is one of the most significant private collections of ancient Chinese mirrors that we know of,” said Li. “Mr. Cotsen has increased its educational value by inviting noted scholars to study each piece and publishing the results of their work.”
Items of Luxury, Works of Art
As early as 2000 B.C., bronze technology was highly developed in China, and objects made from this alloy of copper, tin, and lead were considered luxury items, reserved for the aristocratic class. Among these coveted pieces were small bronze mirrors, some compact and portable enough to be held in one hand, and others large and heavy enough to require stands. Usually cast from clay molds, they were highly polished on one side, offering a reflective surface, while the other side was decorated with intricate patterns and designs that reveal an astonishing level of skill and artistry in their craftsmanship. Birds, dragons, and serpents were common motifs in the earliest mirrors. Later, more sophisticated and elaborate designs included mythological figures, deities, animals of the Chinese zodiac, abstract patterns, background textures, inscriptions, enamelwork, and inlays of jade, turquoise, and mother-of-pearl.
That these mirrors were prized by their owners is evident not only in light of their fine craftsmanship but also because of related artifacts that point to how they were valued. In the exhibition at The Huntington a pottery tomb figure dating to about the first century B.C. depicts a woman gazing into a mirror while applying powder to her face. An elaborate cosmetic set includes a bronze mirror from around the first century A.D., accompanied by a silk brocade pouch, a wool powder puff, and a lacquered wooden box. Artifacts such as these, along with the mirrors themselves, provide a fascinating glimpse into the private lives of their users.
Cultural History Lessons
Yet mirrors also reflect the broad sweep of Chinese history—the rise and fall of dynasties, periods of war and peace, changing beliefs and values, and the influence of expanding commerce. As the Silk Road opened up trade routes to and from India, Persia, and Egypt, for example, new aesthetic elements borrowed from the West began to appear in Chinese design. Twisting grapevines, floral motifs, and complex silver fretwork overlaid on bronze added exotic allure to these symbols of wealth and status.
Silk fabrics of related periods echoed many of the designs and patterns seen in Chinese mirrors. Selected textile fragments from the Lloyd Cotsen Collection provide additional social, historical, and cultural context for the bronzes in the exhibition, adding to the viewer’s appreciation of these exquisite artifacts of daily life in early China.
The exhibition is accompanied by The Lloyd Cotsen Study Collection of Chinese Bronze Mirrors, a publication in two volumes edited by Lothar von Falkenhausen, scholar of art history and the archaeology of China at University of California, Los Angeles. Volume 1 (2009) is a fully illustrated catalog of the collection by Suzanne Cahill; Volume 2 (2011) contains essays by several noted historians. Both volumes are published by Cotsen Occasional Press/UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press. The hardcover set ($450) is available at The Huntington’s Bookstore & More, 626-405-2142, e-mail: email@example.com.
Lecture: Suzanne Cahill, “Charts of the Cosmos: Chinese Bronze Mirrors and
Textiles of the Warring States through the Tang Periods”Nov. 15 (Tuesday), 7:30 p.m.
Free. No reservations required. Friends’ Hall.
Suzanne Cahill, history professor at University of California, San Diego, will speak on two types of early Chinese material culture, bronze mirrors and silk textiles, drawing examples from the Cotsen collections. Cahill will read the designs on mirrors and textiles as templates that tell us what early Chinese elites believed was true and important, what they desired, and what they feared, and suggest that, over a long period of time, artisans producing works in two such apparently different media influenced each other’s designs.Curator Tour
: June Li, curator of the exhibition and curator of the Chinese garden
at The Huntington, will lead a tour of the exhibition.Dec. 1 (Thursday) 4:30–5:30 p.m.
Members: $15. Non-Members: $20. Registration: 626-405-2128. Lecture
: Lothar von Falkenhausen, “The Introduction of Mirrors into China,
and their Subsequent Transformation”Feb. 7, 2012 (Tuesday), 7:30 p.m.
Free. No reservations required. Friends’ Hall.
Lothar von Falkenhausen, scholar of art history and the archaeology of China at University of California, Los Angeles, will speak on the origin and geographic spread of Chinese bronze mirrors. During the first millennium of China’s great Bronze Age, mirrors were not frequently seen; but after about 400 B.C., bronze mirrors quite suddenly became a tremendously important part of Chinese material culture, which they remained for many centuries. What changed? This lecture will explore the cultural transformations China underwent during the late first millennium B.C. and explain why mirrors rose to prominence.Lecture
: David Scott, “Chinese Bronze Mirrors: The Virtual and the Real"April 19, 2012 (Thursday), 7:30 p.m.
Free. No reservations required. Friends’ Hall.
David Scott, professor in the department of art history, University of California, Los Angeles, and chair of the UCLA/Getty Interdepartmental Program in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation, will explore authenticity issues surrounding ancient Chinese bronze mirrors. Using the Cotsen collection of mirrors as a point of departure, Scott will consider how these wonderful originals were cast, and how some of the later copies betray differences in patina, composition, or technological details.
Contacts: Susan Turner-Lowe, 626-405-2147, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thea M. Page, 626-405-2260, email@example.com
[EDITOR’S NOTE: High-resolution digital image available on request for publicity use.]About The Huntington
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. More information about The Huntington can be found online at huntington.org
The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif., 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. It is open to the public Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from noon to 4:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Sunday, and Monday holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Summer hours (Memorial Day through Labor Day) are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and major holidays. Admission on weekdays: $15 adults, $12 seniors (65+), $10 students (ages 12–18 or with full-time student I.D.), $6 youth (ages 5–11), free for children under 5. Group rate $11 per person for groups of 15 or more. Members are admitted free. Admission on weekends and Monday holidays: $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students, $6 youth, free for children under 5. Group rate $14 per person for groups of 15 or more. Members are admitted free. Admission is free to all visitors on the first Thursday of each month with advance tickets. Information: 626-405-2100 or huntington.org
.About the Lloyd Cotsen Collection
Lloyd E. Cotsen is a philanthropist, art patron, and collector whose passion for “creativity in three dimensions” has resulted in extensive collections of textiles, basketry, and folk art. His textile collection, Textile Traces, is composed of approximately 5,000 fragments from nearly every corner of the world and encompasses almost the entire known history of textiles. This assemblage illustrates all aspects of the evolution of weaving, dying, and surface treatment techniques and includes pieces from Elizabethan England to Han dynasty China to contemporary North America. Other important collections assembled by Lloyd Cotsen, but given to U.S. institutions, include the Cotsen Collection of Japanese Bamboo Baskets (donated to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco), the Cotsen Contemporary American Basket Collection (donated to the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin), and the Neutrogena Collection (donated to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe).