Museum  October 22, 2019

The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art

Princeton University Art Museum

Chinese, Liao dynasty, 907–1125, Coffin box panel: Arranging an Outdoor Banquet, 10th–early 11th century. Wood with lacquer-based pigment. Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund (1995-86).

PRINCETON, N.J. – The feast has existed at the core of culture in China for thousands of years and remains a vital part of life in East Asia today. As an important social and ritual activity, feasts commemorated major life events, served as political theater and satisfied religious obligations. The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century traces the art of the feast through more than 50 exceptional objects from three transformative dynasties–the Liao, Song and Yuan. Focusing on a rare group of surviving paintings from the period–along with ceramic, lacquer, metal and stone objects as well as textiles–the exhibition reveals the singular influence China’s culture of feasting had on the formation of the artistic traditions of China.

Synthescape, courtesy of Asia Society / Art Resource, NY.

Chinese, Tang dynasty, 618–907, Court Lady, 8th century. Sancai ware; earthenware with multicolored lead glazes and traces of pigment. Asia Society, New York. Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection (1979.113).

The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century will be on view exclusively at the Princeton University Art Museum from Oct. 19, 2019, through Feb. 16, 2020. The exhibition is curated by Zoe Kwok, assistant curator of Asian art at the Princeton University Art Museum.

“This fascinating and subtle exhibition, based on years of scholarly research and benefiting from one of the most important collections of Chinese painting outside of Asia, here at Princeton, speaks once again to our commitment to examining the art of the past in a new light,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, director. 

In ancient China, feasts intended to nourish and celebrate the spirits of the deceased were a fundamental part of funerary practices. From the 10th to the 14th century, art related to the feast began to survive in greater quantities outside of tombs. At the same time, the tradition of building grand underground tombs stocked with the paraphernalia of feasting began to wane. Presenting a selection of paintings of feasts and banquets from these four centuries alongside an array of feast-related objects, The Eternal Feast demonstrates the important role feasts and banquets played in shaping funerary rituals, social status, gender identity and contemporary politics in China.

Feasts were also crucial opportunities for other forms of performance art, including music, dance and theatrical productions. The Eternal Feast presents objects related to these essential features of the feast along with figural sculpture depicting different kinds of feast participants and performers. Together, these works offer a window into the feast as a site for the creation and consumption of art in China.

Bruce M. White

Chinese, Northern Song dynasty, 960–1127, Flowershaped wine cup and stand. Qingbai ware; porcelain. Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund (2002-135 a-b).

The Eternal Feast is divided into three sections reflecting the different social, political and religious roles played by feasts from the 10th to the 14th century, with each centered on a key painting or set of paintings.

Dining in the Afterlife examines the central role paintings of feasts and objects made for feasting played in funerary art, focusing on some of the earliest works in the exhibition, a rare set of six paintings on wood made for a Liao dynasty tomb. Among the less-known jewels of Princeton’s collections, two of these wood panels depict a group of men preparing tables for an intimate outdoor feast. The panels were produced during the 10th or early 11th century in the territory of the Liao empire, which encompassed parts of present-day Mongolia and northern China.

Ladies Banqueting in Seclusion, the second section of the exhibition, explores the rarely studied topic of the ladies’ feast. This section highlights a large Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) hanging scroll entitled Palace Banquet. Connected to the subject of court-lady painting as well as other genres of Song images, Palace Banquet offers a nostalgic view of a magnificent compound full of Tang dynasty (618-907) court women preparing for an evening banquet.

The centerpiece of the final section, Gentlemen Feasting as Scholarly Business, is Evening Literary Gathering, a handscroll that depicts a 13th- or 14th-century scene of gentlemen enjoying a casual feast that is rich in both historical allusion and contemporary social and political commentary.

A 196-page richly illustrated exhibition catalogue, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, further examines the importance of feasting as a social and ritual activity in China since the Bronze Age. In addition to the curator’s introduction and central essay, entitled “The Feast Across Three Gatherings: Images of Banqueting from the 10th to the 14th Century,” the publication includes object entries that expand our understanding of the material culture of the feast in the Liao, Song and Yuan dynasties.

Princeton University Art Museum

Chinese, Tang dynasty, 618–907, Hairpin with mandarin ducks and lotuses, late 8th–9th century. Beaten silver with gilt finial. Princeton University Art Museum. Gift of J. Lionberger Davis, Class of 1900 (y1966-86).

On Saturday, Nov. 2, an opening lecture by the curator in McCosh Hall at 5 p.m., followed by a reception at the Museum at 6 p.m., is also planned.

Three award-winning Chinese-language films will be presented by the Museum and the Princeton Garden Theatre as part of a film series organized in conjunction with the exhibition. Shadow (2019, directed by Zhang Yimou), on Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m., will be introduced by Museum Director James Steward; Eat Drink Man Woman (1994, directed by Ang Lee), on Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m., will be introduced by exhibition curator Zoe Kwok; and The Assassin (2015, directed by Hsiao-Hsien Hou), on Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m., will be introduced by Associate Director for Education Caroline Harris. Museum members receive the Princeton Garden Theatre member admission price.

The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century is made possible by lead support from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation; the John B. Elliott, Class of 1951, Asian Art Fund; the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund; Henry Luce Foundation; and the Cotsen Chinese Study Fund. Generous support is also provided by the Blakemore Foundation; Christopher E. Olofson, Class of 1992; David Loevner, Class of 1976, and Catherine Loevner; Robert L. Poster, Class of 1962, and Amy Poster; and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional supporters include Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Religion, P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, Program in East Asian Studies, and Center for Collaborative History; the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies; Nancy H. Lin, Class of 1977, and C. Morris Smith, Class of 1976; Shao F. and Cheryl Wang; the Chopra Family Youth and Community Program Fund; and the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.

The accompanying publication is made possible with support from the Barr Ferree Foundation Fund for Publications, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fund; and the Shau-wai and Marie Lam Family Foundation.   

About the Princeton University Art Museum
With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include over 110,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe.

Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. Intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, the Museum offers a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.

The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.

Art@Bainbridge, the Museum’s new gallery project dedicated to emerging contemporary artists, is located at 158 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. Admission is free. Art@Bainbridge hours are Sunday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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