Saturday, 22 September 2012

Tomb Treasures of Han China, The Fitzwilliam

I'm leaving London at the end of the month, so I've been treating my last fortnight here as a holiday, trying to catch up with people and see some of the things I didn't have the time or energy to do over the course of the year. I was going to blog about cultural things in one big post, but then I thought it would be hideously long, so instead I shall do separate posts about each thing.

The first thing is actually in Cambridge not London, the current exhibition of Chinese tomb goods, mostly from the 2nd century BC, at the Fitzwilliam Museum. The Fitzwilliam Museum is my favourite free-exhibition place now that the British Library charges. (The National Gallery does good free exhibitions too, but small ones.) They tend to get a good balance between spectacle and content too.

I went round with a friend and we agreed how interestingly disconcerting it is to see objects from a culture where neither of us have any sense of time-frames and stylistic changes -- I kept being startled to remember how very old the objects are. There are some really lovely small things, like the gold beasts on the poster, and some carved jade, and disturbing all-over jade burial suits. The terracotta figurines of servants and officials are also very pleasing in their quiet elegance, and for the mulish expressions of the horses. There are also some truly beautiful figures of long-sleeved dancers. I think that dancing with long sleeves or "water sleeves" is a very old Chinese art but I only really know about it from the film "The House of Flying Daggers" and from a google search when I got back. Something to point out that that's why the figures had such extended arms would have been good. (I assume that is why -- I don't know for sure.) I also found out from the website when I got back that I'd missed the exhibition's narrative and that the treasures were from rival kingdoms -- but I'd rather have learnt about the dancing than the politics anyway. But these are mostly little quibbles. Apart from suffering a little from the perennial problem of lighting where you cast a shadow on what you're looking at, it's nicely laid out and a good size, and I really enjoyed it.

The Fitzwilliam also has about the most refined tea room I know, where you can get aromatic rosebud tea made from real rosebuds.

Here's some water sleeve dancing I found on YouTube.

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