Liang Yi Museum opens "Majestic: Royal and Imperial Objects from the Liang Yi Collection"

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Liang Yi Museum opens "Majestic: Royal and Imperial Objects from the Liang Yi Collection"
A French Silver Gilt Double Salt Cellar Maker’s mark: J. C. Paris, c. 1840, Height 15cm. In the form of two mythical beasts holding a pair of hinged shell-shaped containers, the salt cellar has a Rococo handle. The underside of the base is inscribed with “Formerly the Property of Louis-Philippe King of the French”; and “Silver Wedding. C.J.D.A.E.D. 2 June 1912.”

HONG KONG.- Liang Yi Museum is presenting Majestic: Royal and Imperial Objects from the Liang Yi Collection, the first exhibition of its kind in Hong Kong to explore the history of royal and noble patronage in the East and West. Drawing on 190 remarkable artefacts from the Museum's permanent collection, the exhibition celebrates the apex of craftsmanship, encouraged and guided by imperial cultural ambition. Majestic: Royal and Imperial Objects from the Liang Yi Collection will open in Spring 2023.

Founded in 2014, Liang Yi Museum has established itself as one of the world’s leading private museums in less than a decade, with an outstanding reputation in the fields of craftsmanship, design and cultural heritage. The Museum now houses close to 7,000 objects in its various collections including classical Chinese furniture; vanities; historic silver; and Japanese works of art. Many of the pieces in the collection were commissioned by the ruling class, or made by celebrated craftsmen granted warrants from the royal courts of Austria, China, Denmark, England, France, and Japan.

Featuring a selection of traditional decorative objects from both East and West, this exhibition takes an international approach to the subject, and can be classified into two broad categories: those with direct royal provenance; and objects created in the taste of royalty.

Imperial Taste of China and Japan

The exhibition begins with a selection of classical Chinese furniture and traditional Japanese works of art, representing the taste of the imperial courts in the East.

The Qing dynasty (1644–1912) was the final imperial dynasty in China, noted for an extended period of economic and cultural prosperity. The Qing court was also a leading patron of the arts. When the Imperial Workshops were established by Emperor Kangxi (1654–1722), arts and crafts in China reached unprecedented maturity under the patronage and direct control of the emperor. The Imperial Workshops recruited skillful artisans from around the country – even Jesuits missionaries – to produce works for the emperor and the imperial family. Furniture-making was one of the categories represented in the Imperial Workshops. Managed by the Imperial Household Department, craftsmen produced exquisite works that represented the highest level of craftsmanship, an emblem of the emperor’s aesthetic taste.

Zitan was the favoured material of the Qing court and during the 17th and 19th centuries, zitan furniture was restricted for use only by the imperial household. Furniture made of this precious hardwood filled the halls of the Forbidden City, including the Hall of Supreme Harmony where enthronement and wedding ceremonies were held. Two highlight exhibits from the Liang Yi collection are a zitan shrine created in 1769, the 34th year of the Qianlong reign; and a set of four zitan armchairs formerly housed at the Prince Gong Mansion, both exhibit the grand imperial style with a lavish use of material.

In Japan, a similar bureau – th Ministry of the Imperial Household – was established during the Asakusa period (538–710), and later renamed the Imperial Household Agency during the Meiji period (1868–1912). It was in charge of regulating the affairs of the imperial household, including the granting of royal warrants to workshops and craftsmen whose works demonstrated excellent quality and met the standard to supply goods to the imperial family. Craftsmen were also appointed by the shogun (military leader) to create works. While the front-facing five-clawed dragon is the distinct symbol of the emperor in China; in Japan, it was the Chrysanthemum Seal (kikumon) or family crest (kamon) which decorates objects used by the Japanese imperial family and feudal lords. Silver boxes with the Chrysanthemum Seal; and a silver incense burner formerly owned by the Hitotsubashi house of one of the “Three Houses of the Tokugawa” (Tokugawa Gosanke) are among the exhibits on display at the exhibition.

Royal Treasures of the West

In Europe, a crown is traditionally the emblem of the monarchy – especially in countries with a Christian tradition – symbolising royalty, power, immortality and glory. The subsequent section of the exhibition showcases European vanities and masterful pieces of silver, including an 18-carat gold casket made by Garrard & Co. Ltd. in 1921 for Princess Mary (1897–1965) and her husband Viscount Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882–1947); and a silver-gilt tray made by Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot (1763–1850) with the imperial seal of Napoleon I (1769–1821) as King of Italy (r.1805–14).

The issuance of the Royal Warrants of Appointment in Britain began in the 15th century. Historic silver pieces produced by silversmiths who had served monarchs, or were granted the royal warrant, including English official crown jeweller Garrard, Maison Odiot that served King Louis-Philippe (1773–1850) and received commissions from Saïd Pacha (1823–63), the Viceroy of Egypt, to the more contemporary Gerald Benney (1930–2008) who held four Royal Warrants at the same time, are some of the more stunning pieces exhibited.

Through these extraordinary examples that highlight the very best of woodwork, lacquer, cloisonné, and metal craft, the exhibition offers unique perspectives on the symbols of power influenced by different cultural backgrounds, as well as the influence of royal patronage on each culture’s deep and tangible material culture.

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