The Japanese art collection includes a 12th century statue of a Shinto priest, a 12th century home altar with the bodhisattva Jizô and ceramics, scroll paintings and calligraphy from the 19th century. Many of the scroll paintings, ceramics and calligraphies come from the hand of Otagaki Rengetsu (1791 – 1875), a remarkable woman who emerged as a poet and painter and continued to be active as an artist after becoming a nun at age 40.
The high quality and number of objects of various types make Chinese art an especially important part of the collection. A procession of 15 riders and a row of 16 foot soldiers can be traced to the Han Dynasty period (206 BCE – 220 CE), which governed China for over 400 years (making it the longest period of rule) and bestowed China with an economic and cultural golden age. The Empire’s great unifier and first Emperor Qin Shihuang Di (221 – 210 BCE) later inherited the throne; his own Qin Dynasty ended soon after him in 206 BCE. The Han Dynasty took over a unified empire with consistent laws throughout the land, enforced by city officials and developed by a branching network of roads, each with a uniform cart track and showing a standard set of weights and measurements. The prevailing worldview was Confucianism, a state ethic of loyalty and piety, super- and subordination that guaranteed upper class superiority even in the afterlife. Funerary and ancestor cults were therefore a privelege of the elite.
The Empire collapsed after the Han period the 3rd century. Meanwhile Buddhism began its gentle spread throughout China, its monasteries becoming the center of intellectual, cultural and economic thought. Buddhism enjoyed enormous popularity as an individual doctrine of salvation intended to lead people to the purity of nirvana, and continued for about a century in China before being violently suppressed and eventually eliminated by the Tang- and Song Dynasties 618 – 907, 960 – 1279 CE). Buddhism enjoyed a heydey during the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 – 577 CE) and Sui Dynasty (581 – 618 CE), unifying the Chinese Empire once again. The collection houses many captivatingly beautiful Buddha statues and heads made out of limestone, including a monumental Buddha head of white marble (90 cm tall) showing traces of color paint.
From the Wei Dynasty – which ruled only part of the Empire – the collection includes a procession of 53 figures from a funerary object (following the Confucian traditions of the Han Dynasty), which out lived the high government officials and military and fought for Buddhism in the Tang- and Song Dynasty period. The collection owns an oustanding collection of work from the Tang Dynasty in particular, including the statue of a temple guard with a terrifying facial expression and highly realistic animal sculptures made of stone.
Scholars’ stones have survived from the Song era, objects for the meditative gaze and wandering eyes across a miniature landscape resting on flat, wooden pedestals. The examples seen in the collection date from the Qing Dynasty (18th – 19th century). Other objects from this time include several large scrolls showing ancestral portraits and other esteemed individuals in magnificent ceremonial robes. The Chinese part of the collection also acquired several historical furnishings and is completed by a variety of porcelain pieces dating from the Song period on. These porcelain works are noteworthy on account of their highly developed sense of form, a sensibility that has continued to influence the best of design to this day.