Asian Art: South and Southeast Asian
Religion has long been the fountainhead of art in South and Southeast Asia and has provided a common cultural bond among many peoples for centuries. One of the most important collections of Asian art in the museum is the material from the area of northern Pakistan in the Indus and Swat river valleys, an area known in ancient times as Gandhara. Most of these works date from the first century B.C.E. to the fifth century C.E. Among this material are over eighty stone relief carvings, thirty molded stucco sculptures and a remarkable hoard of eight hundred bronze coins from the Kushan dynasty. The stone sculptures illustrate in great variety the life stories of the Buddha and his miracles and likely came from religious structures called stupas and their surrounding complexes. The stucco sculptures, including a number of fine heads of the Buddha and his devotees, probably also came from similar settings. A fairly large number of terracotta figurines and vessels of pottery, stone and metal are also part of this collection.
The Pala and Sena periods (eighth to twelfth centuries) of northeast India are represented by a number of monumental stone sculptures depicting Hindu gods and goddesses including Vishnu, Shiva, Parvati and Durga; a finely–carved stele of the Buddha is also from this era. Contemporary with these periods was, in the south of India, the Chola period. In this category the Museum possesses several large bronze Hindu statues of Vishnu, Ganesha and Parvati, and a figure of Lakshmi of the subsequent Vijayanagar period. Other important works from India, numbering over three hundred items, are bronze devotional sculptures from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The majority of these are Hindu deities - many showing the result of ritual use, but the collection includes a number of Buddhist and Jain bronze and brass figurines as well.
Sculptures in the Museum from other regions of South and Southeast Asia date from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries and depict a number of Buddhist and Hindu deities in bronze, stone, and wood. These works originated in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Kampuchea (Cambodia) and Laos. From Nepal and Tibet are sculptures of Hindu and Tantric Buddhist deities. Works from Indonesia include both Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, but other items from this area are decorated daggers, bronze lamps and ceremonial items, a number of textiles (mainly from Sumatra), and works in leather, basketry, terracotta, and wood, along with a set of twenty folk paintings.
Asian Art: East Asia
Although the Museum’s collection in the area of East Asian art is not extensive, there are a number of works of considerable merit. Some of the early periods in Chinese history such as the Chou and Han dynasties (ca. 1122–256 B.C.E. and ca. 206 B.C.E.–220 C.E., respectively) are represented by bronze ritual vessels and a few terracotta tomb figurines. From the Qing period (1644–1912) are a number of objects of porcelain, jade, ivory, and cloisonné - some of museum quality and others very useful for teaching and research. Also in the Chinese collection are a number of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century textiles that include silk robes and ornately-woven insignia panels from the robes of court officials.
The strongest area of Japanese art in the Museum is the material from the Edo period (1615–1868), represented by finely-crafted lacquer boxes, ceramic vessels and woodblock prints. In addition, there are textiles, brass and cloisonné objects, woodblock prints of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and a rare group of over sixty wooden printing blocks of the eighteenth or nineteenth century. Only a very small sampling of objects from Korea is held by the Museum.