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Lecture: Escorts for Eternity

April 16, 2013
Nichols Board of Trustees Suite
$20/$30 lecture, $50/$60 lunch and lecture

For the elite and moderately well-to-do of early imperial China, the afterlife was neither barren nor lonely. As early as the third century b.c., a pervasive desire to comfort and protect the soul had given rise to the widespread creation of “spirit articles” (mingqi, pronounced “ming-chee”)—models made exclusively for burial and primarily of clay. Representing all manner of creatures, people, and things, these sculptures today provide firsthand evidence for the beliefs and lifestyles of their time. And the finest among them are striking works of art.

Before the flood of archaeological discoveries in the 1960s and 1970s, mingqi had attracted few scholars or collectors in China. Social mores forbade the retrievaland collection of grave goods, and looters over the centuries had left them behind. Even when mingqi first surfaced in substantial number in the early 20th century, dealers found their clientele in America and Europe. The earliest and most discriminating collectors included Potter Palmer II and Russell Tyson of Chicago, and their bequests enliven our galleries today. Drawing largely upon recent archaeological finds, Elinor Pearlstein, associate curator of Chinese art, surveys the Art Institute’s most striking pieces—describing their placement in burial, detailing styles and techniques of manufacture, addressing reconstruction and forgery, and exploring the role of mingqi in otherworldly realms that historians are only today beginning to penetrate.

Asian Art Council members: $20 lecture, $50 lunch and lecture
Nonmembers: $30 lecture, $60 lunch and lecture

For more information, contact Susan Packard at (312) 443-7282.

Presented as part of the Encounters with Asia series by the Asian Art Council

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Equestrienne, Tang dynasty (a.d. 618–907), c. 725/750. China. Gift of Mrs. Potter Palmer Wood.