Beyond the Brush—Abstract Ink Painting since 1960 part II

Exhibition dates: 4 April  to 28 August 2017

Gallery 29 | Admission Free

The Modern Art Movement in Taiwan Part II

Fong Chung-Ray is a distinguished artist best known for his unique abstract painting. In 1949 he went to Taiwan where he received formal art training at the military’s Cadre College of Arts and Crafts. After graduation, he worked as an officer and created art works for the Navy. In 1956 he abandoned realistic descriptive style and became more interested in abstract painting. In 1961 he joined the Fifth Moon Group and his work was influenced by Liu Kuo-sung.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View, works by Fong Chung-Ray

Upon emigrating to America in 1975, Fong Chung-Ray became more interested in mixed-media and collage. In 1989 Fong introduced collage into his ink painting, and developed his distinguished style that blends the essence of Chinese literati painting and the spirit of modern Western art.  He applied acrylic onto thin sheets of plastic to produce unpredictable patterns, and these patterns in turn are transferred onto papers or canvas. Such a process produced ragged, geometric shapes which blended Chinese calligraphy, European Cubism and paper mounting. His paintings blended the brush strokes of Chinese calligraphy with Abstract Expressionist features.

Fong Chung-ray, Blue, green, and black composition, 2008, ink and acrylic on layers Japanese paper, 27.1 x 24.3 cm, Sullivan Bequest, © Fong Chung Ray. EA2015.119

The paintings in this display were created by the artist in the last decade. Inspired by Liu Kuo-sung’s encouragement, Fong Chung-Ray frequently uses Chinese calligraphy as visual elements; these paintings are excellent examples of turning Chinese calligraphy into expressive images through collage. Fong Chung-Ray names his works with numbers of production rather than more descriptive titles. He was recognised as the most sophisticated colourist of the group. Fong’s colourism is distinguished by its subtle values and delicate hues. In the choice of main colours; he prefers black, pale grey, blue and violet.

Fong Chung-ray, Green, red, and black composition, 2008, ink and acrylic on layers Japanese paper, 24 x 27.2 cm, Sullivan Bequest, © Fong Chung Ray. EA2015.118

Chu Ge (alternative name Yuan Dexing) was a central figure in Taiwan’s modern art movement as a poet, art critic, painter and sculptor. He went to Taiwan in 1949, in 1957 he joined in the modern poetry and painting movements, and used the pen name of Chu Ko.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View with two works by Chu Ko

In 1965 Chu Ko started working at the National Palace Museum, his research on prehistoric artefacts and Chinese history became some sources of his artistic creation. In Herdsman’s Song, the entangled calligraphic lines present artfully tied knots which were often used by people in ancient China to keep records before writing. From Chu’s view, the aesthetic of Chinese art lies in the simple beauty of knots full of transformation.

 

Yan Liu, Christensen Fellow in Chinese Painting.

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Beyond the Brush—Abstract Ink Painting since 1960 part III

Exhibition dates: 4 April  to 28 August 2017

Gallery 29 | Admission Free

Experimental ink art in the Mainland and beyond

This exhibition also showcases a few experimental ink paintings by contemporary artists from mainland and Hong Kong whose works blend the spirit of Western Abstract Expressionism and an oriental aesthetic.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View

Qiu Deshu (b. 1948), who is a gifted painter and calligrapher, began experimenting with ink on paper in creative ways when he saw Jackson Pollock’s abstract painting at an exhibition in Shanghai in 1979. In the same year, he organised the Grass Society (Caocao huashe), one of the first dissident groups. After a year in America (1985-1986) he returned to Shanghai, and developed his unique technique “fissuring”, or “transparent paper tear method”. Qiu’s experiment in ink painting began in the end of 1970s. Inspired by the crack in a flagstone by change in 1982, he started his “Fissure” series. He uses ink, colour and paper in a collage-like process indebted to the techniques used for mounting scrolls. In the painting Ghostly figures and cracks, he introduced graphic composition into ink painting, and the red marks in this image recall the collector’s seals on ancient Chinese calligraphy and paintings (Image 2015. 267).

Qiu Deshu, Ghostly figures and cracks, before 7 May 1989, ink and colour on paper, 34.4 x 48.3 cm, Sullivan Bequest © the Artist. EA2015.267

In his later work, he does not directly use ink and colour to make forms and draw line, but instead he applies ink and colour onto canvas and board before mounting the broken rice paper. By hitting and rubbing the surface of rice paper, the base colour can be reflected to form different tones, layers and textures.

Ng Yiu-chung, Landscape with red sun, 1970 – 1971, ink and colour on paper, 31.1 x 44.4 cm, Sullivan Bequest © the Artist. EA2015.222.e

Ng Yiu-chung (Wu Yaozhong, b. 1935) is a painter based in Hong Kong. In 1968 he studied painting under Lü Shoukun (1919-1975), who was a pioneering painter and initiated the New Ink Movement involved in pulling modernist elements into ink painting in Hong Kong. In this landscape painting, Ng discarded the traditional vocabulary of texture-strokes, and built up his mountains with short, even, straight strokes, layer upon layer, as if they were bricks.

Lü Wu-chiu, Wang Wei’s Peach Blossom Spring, 2004, ink on paper, 77.3 x 82.8 cm, Sullivan Bequest © the Artist. EA2015.242.b

Lü Wu-chiu was born 1918 in Tanyang, Jiangsu province, as the second daughter of the painter and calligrapher Lü Fengzi, former president of the National Arts College in Suzhou. Lü received her early training in the art of portraiture, which at first she practised in embroidery, so well that her work was presented as gifts to foreign diplomats, winning her a fellowship to the United States. During her visit and study in North America in 1959-60, Lü Wu-chiu became interested in experimental ink painting. Her paintings take on the form of abstract expressionism and embody the essence of Chinese aesthetics.

Beyond the Brush: Abstract Ink Paintings since 1960 – Exhibition View

It is worth mentioning that all the exhibits are from the Sullivan Bequest. Professor Michael Sullivan (1916-2013) was Fellow Emeritus of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University and a pioneering scholar of modern and contemporary Chinese art. He was born on October 29, 1916, in Toronto, Canada. In 1939 he went to China to drive trucks for the Red Cross in southwest China, where he met and married Khoan in 1943, and made many goods friends with Chinese artists. Over seven decades, the Sullivans built up a rich collection of modern and contemporary Chinese art in a diversity of styles and media.

After his death, more than 450 paintings were bequeathed to the Ashmolean together with his archive. The paintings on display were gifted to Sullivan by artists themselves, including the album with Chen Ting-shih‘s painting, which was circulated among artists of the younger generation whom Professor Michael Sullivan met during his visit to Hong Kong in 1968. All were painters, except for the sculptors Cheung Yee  (b.1936) and Van Lau (b.1933). Their contributions give a hint of the fascinating range of media, styles and techniques, from the purely classical to abstractions and collages, being practised at the time of the colony’s artistic awakening.

Yan Liu, Christensen Fellow in Chinese Painting.

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Hiroshige’s Japan: Views of Mount Fuji

15 November 2016 to 26 March 2017

Gallery 29 | Admission Free

Mount Fuji, an active volcano and Japan’s highest mountain, has long been praised by poets and depicted by artists for its beautiful shape and sacred status. In the mid-1800s, the great landscape print designer Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) produced numerous views of Mount Fuji in different seasons and weather conditions. These were probably inspired by his contemporary Hokusai, whose ground-breaking series ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’ was hugely successful in the 1830s.

A special exhibition in the Ashmolean’s Eastern Art Prints and Paintings Gallery (Gallery 29) shows a selection of Hiroshige’s views of Mount Fuji, drawn from the Ashmolean’s own collection. The exhibition includes views of Mount Fuji from several different Hiroshige series, some devoted entirely to Fuji and others in which Fuji appears in views of Edo, or seen from the Tōkaidō Road, Japan’s major highway. It is the second in a series of displays highlighting the Ashmolean’s collection of Hiroshige landscape prints.

Inume Pass in Kai Province (Kai Inume tōge甲斐犬目峠) Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji Date: 1858 Colour woodblock print Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, EAX.4389 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford Travellers walk along the edge of Inume Pass on a chilly autumn day. A flock of geese flies in front of Mount Fuji, adding to the melancholy autumnal atmosphere. Hiroshige is known to have travelled to this area in the spring of 1841. In his diary he described its awe-inspiring beauty. Hiroshige absorbed a wide range of artistic influences, evident in this work: the fluffy clouds in the ravine and the shading on Mount Fuji are probably influenced by Western copper-plate prints, but the dots on the craggy rocks are more reminiscent of Chinese ink painting.

Inume Pass in Kai Province (Kai Inume tōge 甲斐犬目峠)
Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
Date: 1858
Colour woodblock print
Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, EAX.4389
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Travellers walk along the edge of Inume Pass on a chilly autumn day. A flock of geese flies in front of Mount Fuji, adding to the melancholy autumnal atmosphere. Hiroshige is known to have travelled to this area in the spring of 1841 and in his diary he described its awe-inspiring beauty. Hiroshige absorbed a wide range of artistic influences, evident in this work: the fluffy clouds in the ravine and the shading on Mount Fuji are probably influenced by Western copper-plate prints, but the dots on the craggy rocks are more reminiscent of Chinese ink painting.

 

By Hiroshige’s time, the Japanese print industry was booming and ukiyo-e woodblock prints depicting the lively popular culture of the urban pleasure districts could be purchased for the price of a large bowl of noodles. However, the landscape print was a new genre, pioneered by Hiroshige’s contemporary Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Hiroshige’s own breakthrough came with the publication of his series ‘Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō’, which appeared between 1832 and 1834 and depicted scenes at the fifty-three post stations along Japan’s major highway. In his work Hiroshige captured quite brilliantly the effects of season, weather and time of day. He took full advantage of recent technical developments in his work, in particular the introduction of a new Western pigment known as Berlin or Prussian blue, which became commercially viable in Japan from the mid-1820s. The brilliantly coloured Prussian blue gave artists much greater freedom of expression in the depiction of sky and water. The new blue was particularly effective when it was applied using a method of sophisticated colour gradation known as bokashi, in which printers wiped and diluted the amount of pigment applied to the woodblock. The success of Hiroshige’s designs depended largely on the skilful use of bokashi colour gradation to enhance the mood of rainfall, mist or snow.

The ‘Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō’ was so successful that Hiroshige continued to produce series of landscape prints of well-known locations for the rest of his life. His final series of prints was the ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ (Fuji Sanjū-rokkei 富士三十六景), produced for the publisher Kichizō (Kōeidō) from around 1858 to 1859. It was made in conjunction with Hiroshige’s pupil, Hiroshige II, and indeed was probably finished by him after Hiroshige’s death in 1858.

The subject of Mount Fuji, shown in different seasons and weather conditions from a variety of different places and distances, had already been made popular by Katsushika Hokusai in his famous series of 1830–1833, the ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ (Fugaku sanjū-rokkei) and later in his book One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku hyakkei). Hokusai himself was probably influenced by an earlier illustrated book entitled One Hundred Fujis (Hyaku Fuji), written by Kawamura Minsetsu in 1767. The notion of a set of 36 was a traditional format, referring back to the group of 36 revered poets selected in the early twelfth century as models of Japanese poetic ability.

Hiroshige had himself already produced a version of the 36 views of Fuji in small horizontal format at the end of 1852, and Mount Fuji also featured in many of his views of Edo and views along the Tōkaidō. However, this final series devoted entirely to the sacred mountain was designed in vertical format. This allowed him to show off the bold compositional skills he had developed in the 1850s, in particular his fondness for balancing foreground elements with landscape backgrounds.

The Sagami River (Sagamigawaさがみ川) Series: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji Date: 1858 Colour woodblock print Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, 1952 EAX.4384 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford This print is unusual within this series for its focus on human activities, as two men punt log-rafts along the river. Hiroshige has layered multiple visual planes in this composition, starting with the egret and reeds at the front, and ending with Fuji at the back. This device creates a sense of depth in the composition without resorting to Western linear perspective. The column of smoke from the fire divides the print vertically and the unexpected colours evoke a bright spring morning. This print was famously included in the background of van Gogh’s 1887 oil portrait of Père Tanguy.

The Sagami River (Sagamigawa さがみ川)
Series: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji
Date: 1858
Colour woodblock print
Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, 1952 EAX.4384
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
This print is unusual within this particular series for its focus on human activities, as two men punt log-rafts along the river. Hiroshige has layered multiple visual planes in this composition, starting with the egret and reeds at the front, and ending with Fuji at the back. This device creates a sense of depth in the composition without resorting to Western linear perspective. The column of smoke from the fire divides the print vertically and the unexpected colours evoke a bright spring morning. This print was famously included in the background of van Gogh’s 1887 oil portrait of Père Tanguy.

 

Mount Fuji, an active volcano that last erupted in 1707, is the highest mountain in Japan at 3776m. It has long been praised by poets and depicted by artists for its beautiful shape and sacred status. In June 2013, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage cultural site in recognition of the way in which it has ‘inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries’. Fuji is located just 70 miles from Hiroshige’s hometown of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and on a clear day can be seen from many points in the city. It was also visible from many parts of the Tōkaidō Road that linked Edo with the ancient capital of Kyoto.

Mountains have traditionally been considered sacred in Japan, thought of as homes to spirits and gods, and by the seventh century Mount Fuji was being worshipped by wandering ascetic monks who climbed the mountain as a form of worship. By the early 1600s a Fuji cult, known as Fuji Shinkō, had developed in Edo. The Fuji Shinkō, which combined elements of Buddhist and Shinto belief, believed that Fuji protected Edo and the prosperity of the whole country, and established organizations of Fuji worshippers to provide rituals, prayers and pilgrimage practices for their members. These Fujikō groups, as they were called, were also responsible for the construction of a number of artificial Fuji-shaped hills in parks throughout Edo. These ‘mini-Fujis’ allowed citizens unable to travel to the actual mountain the chance to make substitute pilgrimages, or simply to enjoy them as a kind of theme park. There were ten of these replicas in Edo in Hiroshige’s day and he depicted them in several of his prints. Many purchasers of printed views of Fuji may have belonged to branches of these Fuji associations, which had around 70,000 members in Edo in Hiroshige’s day. One branch was led by a leading publisher of the early nineteenth century, Nishimuraya Yohachi (Eijudō), who produced several of Hiroshige’s print series (although not this one).

 

The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province (Suruga Satta kaijō駿河薩多海上) Series: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji Date: 1858 Colour woodblock print Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, EAX.4387 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford Here Mount Fuji is framed by a giant curling wave in the foreground. The design recalls Hokusai’s famous depiction of Fuji, known as ‘The Great Wave’. Hiroshige’s version is calmer and more detached. The water has been printed with great sophistication, with three different shades of blue contrasting with the white wave crests, which in turn harmonize with the white peak of Mount Fuji in the background. The marks of the baren printing tool are clearly visible on the slopes of the mountain.

The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province (Suruga Satta kaijō 駿河薩多海上)
Series: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
Date: 1858
Colour woodblock print
Presented by Mrs Allan and Mr and Mrs H. N. Spalding, EAX.4387
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Here Mount Fuji is framed by a giant curling wave in the foreground. The design recalls Hokusai’s famous depiction of Fuji, commonly known as ‘The Great Wave’. Hiroshige’s version is calmer and more detached. The water has been printed with great sophistication, with three different shades of blue contrasting with the white wave crests, which in turn harmonize with the white peak of Mount Fuji in the background. The marks of the baren printing tool are clearly visible on the slopes of the mountain.

 

 

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Power and Protection: Islamic Art and the Supernatural

Exhibition dates: 20 October 2016 to 15 January 2017

Sainsbury Special Exhibition Galleries | Book tickets

Power and Protection poster

The Ashmolean autumn exhibition, Power and Protection: Islamic Art and the Supernatural, is now open until 15 January 2017.

It looks at Islam’s attitudes towards the range of practices designed to predict one’s destinies and harness hidden forces for good luck and protection. The objects selected span from the 12th century to the present day, and were produced in a vast area stretching over three continents, from Morocco in the west to China in the east, and from Turkey in the north to Indonesia in the south.

Jar with Signs of the Zodiac Iran, early 13th century, Fritware, painted in lustre over the glaze, Diam. 18.5 cm Presented by Sir Alan Barlow, 1956. Ashmolean Museum (EA1956.58) © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Jar with Signs of the Zodiac
Iran, early 13th century, Fritware, painted in lustre over the glaze, Diam. 18.5 cm
Presented by Sir Alan Barlow, 1956. Ashmolean Museum (EA1956.58)
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The exhibition is divided into three distinct but interconnected parts. The first gallery, titled ‘Interpreting Signs’, explores four types of divinatory techniques. It begins with astrology and its sister discipline astronomy, and looks at their interaction and integration with each other. Astrological imagery recurs on various types of objects, including the coffee set that once belonged to Fath ‘Ali Shah Qajar (r. 1797–1834) discussed in a previous blog post. The exhibition moves on to geomancy, or as known in the Arabic tradition, the ‘science of the sand’ (‘ilm al-raml). In this technique, the diviner traces 16 figures made of dots and lines on the sand and then interprets the sequence to answer a question. The next two divinatory techniques considered are dream interpretation and a practice known as bibliomancy, which uses books to foretell destinies and events.

Calligraphic Finial in the Shape of a Dragon Golconda (India), late 17th–early 18th century, Brass, 18 x 10.7 cm Purchased, 1994. Ashmolean Museum (EA1994.45) © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Calligraphic Finial in the Shape of a Dragon
Golconda (India), late 17th–early 18th century, Brass, 18 x 10.7 cm
Purchased, 1994. Ashmolean Museum (EA1994.45)
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The second gallery is titled ‘The Power of the Word’. It explores how objects carrying specific inscriptions (primarily sacred in nature) became imbued with protective, curative or talismanic powers. The Qur’an is the obvious primary resource of power and protection for Muslims, and examples of the Holy Book displayed in this gallery are opened on specific verses that are known to have been used for protective or healing purposes. The range of objects exhibited here, including arms and armour as well as the so-called magico-medicinal bowls, are inscribed with sacred words and thus appeal to their shielding or restorative properties.

Amulet India, late 17th–early 18th century, Cornelian, inscribed and jade inlaid with gold and inset with emeralds and rubies, 3.2 x 4.1 cm Presented by J. B. Elliott, 1859. Ashmolean Museum (EA2009.5) © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Amulet
India, late 17th–early 18th century, Cornelian, inscribed and jade inlaid with gold and inset with emeralds and rubies, 3.2 x 4.1 cm
Presented by J. B. Elliott, 1859. Ashmolean Museum (EA2009.5)
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The third and last gallery – ‘Amulets and Talismans’ – explores a wide selection of these objects. Many take the form of jewellery or small pocket-size objects, such as miniature Qur’ans or tiny scrolls kept inside cylindrical containers. Shops in various Muslim countries still offer devotional and preventive amulets for sale today. Also highlighted in this gallery are certain talismanic symbols which were considered blessed due to their associations with sacred individuals or sites. Among the most potent are the seal of Solomon and objects associated with the Prophet Muhammad, such as the mythical sword dhu’l-fiqar and his sandal (na‘l al-nabi). Finally, the exhibition looks at a selection of calligraphic works imbued with blessing (baraka) and protective powers, including the hilya (verbal portraits of the Prophet Muhammad) and calligrams (images made of words).

Pocket-size commodities and keyring sold at the Shrine of Eyüp, Istanbul Private collection © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Pocket-size commodities and keyring sold at the Shrine of Eyüp, Istanbul
Private collection
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Further information on the themes and objects in the exhibition can be found in the exhibition catalogue and the exhibition microsite. There are also gallery tours as well as a series of talks and events on a range of topics relating to the exhibition, details of which can be found here.

For general information about the exhibition, click here.

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Monkey Tales: Apes and Monkeys in Asian Art

Exhibition dates: 14 Jun 2016 to 30 Oct 2016

Gallery 29 | Admission Free

2016 is the Year of the Monkey according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. While the lunar calendar and its twelve zodiac animals are distinct to East Asia, images of monkeys feature in the mythology, folklore, art and literature of many cultures around the globe.

This exhibition, drawn from the Ashmolean’s collections of Asian art, celebrates the Year of the Monkey by showing images of monkeys from across Asia. It includes depictions of monkeys in their natural environment and highlights two of the mythical monkey figures best known outside Asia: the Monkey King of Chinese literature and the Hindu monkey warrior Hanuman.

Monkeys in the wild

There are many different species of ape and monkey native to the forests and mountains of Asia, ranging from baboons in the Arabian Peninsula to orangutans in the rainforests of Borneo, long-armed gibbons in China and India, and many varieties of macaque across the whole region. They are widely celebrated in poetry and literature and represented in art.

Ohara Koson (1877–1945) Monkey on a willow branch Japan Colour woodblock print 1900 EA1989.177 This print shows a Japanese macaque, a species of monkey that is native to Japan. Ohara Koson was a prolific printmaker, best known for his depictions of birds and flowers. Especially in his early work, Koson’s prints had a very painterly feel. When this print was made around 1900, Japanese prints were made by division of labour; Koson was the print designer who worked with blockcutters and printers under the direction of a publisher.

Ohara Koson (1877–1945), Monkey on a willow branch
Japan, colour woodblock print, 1900, EA1989.177
This print shows a Japanese macaque, a species of monkey that is native to Japan. Ohara Koson was a prolific printmaker, best known for his depictions of birds and flowers. Especially in his early work, Koson’s prints had a very painterly feel. When this print was made around 1900, Japanese prints were made by division of labour; Koson was the print designer who worked with blockcutters and printers under the direction of a publisher.
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

Monkey King

The Monkey King is the main character in the famous Chinese novel, Journey to the West. First published in the 1500s and attributed to the author Wu Cheng’en, the tale also became enormously popular in Japan. It relates how the Monkey King, after being cast out of heaven, redeems himself by helping the Tang dynasty monk Xuanzang on his pilgrimage to India in search of sacred Buddhist texts. The Monkey King is accompanied by his companions, Pigsy and Sandy and the Dragon Prince, who transforms himself into a white horse for Xuanzang to ride on.

From a set of nine papercuts showing scenes from Journey to the West China, Cut paper, 1980s The papercut is a distinctive Chinese visual art form, in which artists cut detailed designs in paper using scissors or engraving knives. This set of papercuts depicts characters from the Chinese novel Journey to the West, attributed to Wu Cheng'en (1505–1580). In this tale the Tang Buddhist monk Xuanzang (602–664) and his four disciples, Monkey King, Pigsy, Sandy and the Dragon Prince (disguised as a white horse), head westward in search of scriptures. The Monkey King, also called Sun Wukong, possesses superhuman powers and can travel great distances through the air riding on the clouds.

From a set of nine papercuts showing scenes from Journey to the West
China, cut paper, 1980s
The papercut is a distinctive Chinese visual art form, in which artists cut detailed designs in paper using scissors or engraving knives. This set of papercuts depicts characters from the Chinese novel Journey to the West, attributed to Wu Cheng’en (1505–1580). In this tale the Tang Buddhist monk Xuanzang (602–664) and his four disciples, Monkey King, Pigsy, Sandy and the Dragon Prince (disguised as a white horse), head westward in search of scriptures. The Monkey King, also called Sun Wukong, possesses superhuman powers and can travel great distances through the air riding on the clouds.
Presented by John Gittings, ea2008.42.d
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892), The monkey Son Gokū with the rabbit in the moon (Songokū gyokuto), From the series ‘One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki hyaku sugata)’ Japan, Colour woodblock print, 1889 Here the Monkey King is dramatically framed against an enormous moon. In the background is the ‘Jade Rabbit’, which the Japanese see in the moon’s markings, instead of a ‘man in the moon’. As there is no myth that involves these two characters together, it seems to be Yoshitoshi’s idea to bring them together. This series of 100 prints was one of Yoshitoshi’s final works. The subjects, linked only by the presence of the moon in each print, are drawn from various sources in Japanese and Chinese history and literature, Kabuki and Nō theatre. Presented in memory of Derick Grigs, EA1971.170

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892), The monkey Son Gokū with the rabbit in the moon (Songokū gyokuto), From the series ‘One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki hyaku sugata)’
Japan, colour woodblock print, 1889
Here the Monkey King is dramatically framed against an enormous moon. In the background is the ‘Jade Rabbit’, which the Japanese see in the moon’s markings, instead of a ‘man in the moon’. As there is no myth that involves these two characters together, it seems to be Yoshitoshi’s idea to bring them together. This series of 100 prints was one of Yoshitoshi’s final works. The subjects, linked only by the presence of the moon in each print, are drawn from various sources in Japanese and Chinese history and literature, Kabuki and Nō theatre.
Presented in memory of Derick Grigs, EA1971.170
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

Hanuman

One of the most popular Hindu gods is Hanuman the Monkey, in some tales described as a manifestation of Shiva. Revered for his bravery, strength, loyalty and dedication to justice, Hanuman’s heroic exploits are told in the great Hindu epic Ramayana, in which he is depicted as a warrior fighting for King Rama against the evil demon king Ravana. He is also mentioned in several other texts. Some scholars believe that Hanuman mythology might be the origin of the Chinese Monkey King story.

Hanuman sets fire to Lanka with his tail, Ravi Varma Press, Bombay and Lonavla, India
Chromolithograph, Early 1900s
The heroic Hanuman went to spy out Ravana’s fortress of Lanka, secretly visiting Rama’s wife Sita in captivity. He was then caught and Ravana’s son wrapped his tail in an oiled cloth and set it alight. But Hanuman escaped and set the city ablaze as he flew off. The Ravi Varma Press greatly popularised the work of the painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906), who interpreted Hindu mythological scenes in a Europeanised academic style. The eye-catching mass-produced prints deriving from his paintings became widespread in 20th century India, adorning households, shops and tea-houses. Gift of the Church Missionary Society, EA1966.52.113
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

The Chinese lunar calendar

China and other East and Southeast Asian countries have traditionally used a lunar calendar. This calendar is composed of a repeating twelve-year cycle, with each year corresponding to one of twelve zodiac animals (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig). Each zodiac animal is believed to represent particular characteristics and people born in a certain year are believed to take on these characteristics. People born in the Year of the Monkey are thought to be lively, intelligent, sociable and at times self-centred.

 

Monkey King Opera mask, From a set of ten papercuts depicting Beijing opera masks 1980s, dye on cut xuan paper This papercut shows the Monkey King in the facial make-up of the Beijing opera. The Monkey King is a very popular character in Beijing opera – a type of traditional theatre integrating music, performance, literature and face-painting which rose to prominence in the late 1700s is portrayed as an intelligent, righteous, brave and faithful figure, inaugurating the auspicious tidings of the year of the monkey. Presented by John Gittings, EA2008.53.j

Monkey King Opera mask, From a set of ten papercuts depicting Beijing opera masks
1980s, dye on cut xuan paper
This papercut shows the Monkey King in the facial make-up of the Beijing opera. The Monkey King is a very popular character in Beijing opera – a type of traditional theatre integrating music, performance, literature and face-painting which rose to prominence in the late 1700s is portrayed as an intelligent, righteous, brave and faithful figure, inaugurating the auspicious tidings of the year of the monkey.
Presented by John Gittings, EA2008.53.j
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

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