Chen Yanqing, Daoist immortal Laozi, dated 1438. Chinese.
Conveying a person's inner spirit (chuanshen) is the central aspect of figural representation in Chinese art. Rather than prioritizing accurate anatomical renderings, artists sought to capture the "life energy" of their subjects. This exhibition explores sophisticated decorative arts that depict figures dating to late imperial China, from the Song (960–1279) to the Qing (1644–1911) dynasty. Over this thousand-year period, images of humans, legendary figures, and immortals frequently appeared. The first gallery focuses on children, a ubiquitous and long-standing motif expressing the cultural importance of offspring. The second gallery displays scenes from idealized daily life, historical novels, and legends. Various religious figures from Buddhism and Daoism are presented in the third gallery.
Some of the objects in this exhibition are recognized masterpieces, while others are little known and have not been on view for decades. Mainly drawn from The Met collection, this exhibition showcases diverse media, including textiles, lacquer, jade, ceramic, wood, bamboo, and metalwork.