The Museum’s music section was officially established in 1933 at the instigation of Mr. Philippe Stern, at the time Assistant Curator. Well aware of the inevitable process of acculturation already affecting some of the most ancient Asiatic musical traditions, Philippe Stern decided to conserve their tenuous existence for posterity by creating a sound library specifically designed for this purpose. The sound archives consist of a unique collection of some 1800 78rpm records, 1000 33rpm records and 500 tapes of original recordings made by various ethnographic missions in the 1950s.

Among the most valuable items are 180 78rpm records cut during the Colonial Exhibition held at Vincennes in 1931, a complete collection of 160 78rpm records produced in 1932 on the occasion of the first Arab Music Congress in Cairo, two series of over 700 78rpm records devoted to the Chinese Opera, Philippe Stern’s own private collection, and the original matrices for the recordings of Sanskrit and Japanese Buddhist liturgical recitations made in 1934 thanks to an anonymous donation.

This manuscript, acquired from the David-Weill donation collection with the support of Aline Mayrisch, contains passages from the biography of Xuanzang, one of the most famous translators of Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese. It is in fact the translation of a Chinese work into Turkish, using an alphabet derived from Aramaic via Sogdian, by Sïngqo Säli tutung (in Chinese: Shengguang fashi), a native of Bechbalik (present-day Guchen). The 10-volume work, entitled “Biography of the Master of the Law of the Three Baskets of the Monastery of the Great Passion”, relates the life of the celebrated Buddhist monk Xuanzang who, in the 7th century, played a key role in the propagation of Buddhism in China, translating the religious writings that he had brought back from India. The Chinese text was written between 664 and 688 by two of his disciples, Huili and Yencong.

The translation is only known of from this manuscript. The Musée Guimet possesses one third of the text; the other two thirds are in collections in Beijing and St Petersburg.

The text appears within rectangular red line frames, with 27 lines per page. Cursive inscriptions have been added at the end of the chapter. One third of the way down the left side of each page, a small, red, centrally pierced circle recalls the formal derivation of the manuscript from Indian counterparts.

The manuscript consists of 123 fragments of light brown paper, on which the text is written in black ink, with red ruled lines visible in places.

This manuscript of a work by rMa-ston srol’jin (1092-?), dealing with ritual, consists of 161 oblong folios with 5-line texts on either side of each page written in gold ink on a 6.5 x 28 cm black ground. The folios have a protective cover and the flat outer cardboard surface has a hollowed-out cartouche on the back with its own protective fabric net. On either side of the cartouche, two syllables are noted in lantsa script. The lower surface consists solely of a blank sheet. The whole manuscript is held between two crude, red-tinted boards.

The piece perhaps comes from the Bru family, natives of Gilgit, who settled in Tashilhumpo and into which the 2nd and 5th Dalai Lamas were born. The family died out in the 19th century and the library was dispersed.

This manuscript contains the commentaries on the Dhammapada “The Verses of Truth” attributed to Buddhaghosa (5th century), the greatest Buddhist commentator in Pali, along with a paraphrase in Burmese. It consists of a sheaf of 484 ollas protected by two 2 cm.-thick boards each pierced with a hole. The boards are made of black lacquered wood and display floral motifs. Each page carries a 9-line text of medium round Burmese calligraphy carved into the leaves and has two empty rectangles with pierced holes holes to thread the pages together. The foliation, on the top left margin on the back of each page, adopts an alphabetical system; moreover, the mention Dhammapada appears in tiny characters in the right-hand margins of certain ollas. The magnificent black lacquered borders, of an outstanding quality of craftsmanship, have gilded edges and a broad red lacquered band in the middle flanked by a broad interlacing motif that differs on each border.

The ollas are made from talipat palm (corypha umbraculifera) leaves. The style of the boards and the undivided sheaves allow the work to dated from the latter half of the 18th century. No copy of the text exists in any French library; only Copenhagen library possesses a related manuscript with which it is possible to establish links, although the latter text is different and incomplete.

This map charts the course of the Yellow River (Huang he), its source, mouth, and tributaries, as well as mountain ranges and cities. The river’s source in the Kunlun mountains features on the right-hand side of the beginning of the scroll, together with the canal linking the Blue River with Beijing. Each city is symbolized by a crenellated wall, while the mountains and bridges are indicated in the conventional fashion then in use, although in a fairly pictorial manner. The map places the river’s mouth much farther south than its present-day location. This can be explained by the major changes in water levels undergone by the Huang he throughout its history. It also reveals that the map was drawn up before 1851, the date of the catastrophic flooding which brought about the radical alteration in the river’s course.

The map consists of an 11-metre long scroll covered in a silk brocade with small hexagonally inscribed swastika motifs.

It was brought back from China by the diplomat Arnold Vissière (1858-1930) who became professor of Chinese at the Ecole nationale des Langues orientales and who had built up a private collection of Chinese maps.

This work, the preface of which is dated Bunsei 11, or 1828, is a treatise on flora, adopting the plant classification of Li Shi zhen’s Pents’ao kang mu (Benzao gangmu) published in China in 1596. The specimen in the library consists of 87 fascicles (out of the 91 published); certain volumes are wood block printed and hand coloured while others are manuscript in a wood block printed frame. The fascicles, generally in excellent condition, come from the collection of Dr Ludovic Savatier (1830-1891) who, from 1866 to 1871, was the doctor at the French-built Yokosuka arsenal.

This work, one of the very earliest printed books in Manchu, is a compilation of twenty-one episodes dealing with Chinese history, and more particularly the history of the Jin dynasty (1115-1234), ancestors of the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

A few brief notes on Buddhist and Confucian ethics have been appended. The text, written in ancient Manchu script and spelling, features neither dots nor circles, thus indicating that it was printed prior to the orthographic reform of 1632.

The account opens with the sign known as birga, and the beginning of each episode is marked by a circle.The volume, simply bound by means of two twisted pieces of paper, and with neither cover nor title, was printed from wood blocks.

The text contains no date or any mention allowing the author to be identified.

This work, the title page of which has a foliage decoration, contains the full edition in seven “sheaves” of a Mongol translation of the complete works of Nag-dban-blo-bzan-chos-Idan, first changkya khutukhtu (1642-1714), wood-block printed in red ink on paper in Beijing in 1727.

Bibliographical information in Chinese, such as the “standard title”, sheaf number, continuous foliation and number of the work, feature in the right-hand margin of the frame. Each sheaf, wrapped in fabric, has two protective wooden boards covered in yellow-gold silk with multicoloured decorative motifs of dragons, flowers and clouds.

The inside of each board forms a rectangular recessed frame, protected by 3 variously coloured double silk nets. Within the recess is glued a sheet on which appear, on either side of a text written in gold ink on a black ground, two “vignettes” representing deities. The borders are embellished with the eight propitious signs (bkra-shis rtags-brgyad) laid out in a stylized plant decoration on red ground.

This collection of haiku, or short Japanese poems consisting of a single 17-syllable verse, includes a series of works compiled by Kawase Kiei and engraved by Yoshida Gyosen. The photograph presented here shows a work by Hanabusa Ikko. The combination of poetry, illustration and calligraphy, all adopting a common creative technique, contributed to the success of this fully-fledged literary form. Regarded as an autonomous genre conveying its own distinctive and integral manner of expression, the haikai emerged when poetry broke free from the restricted circle of the court to be practiced by all social classes including the bourgeoisie and peasantry.

The work has a protective brown paper cover and is bound by means of a green cord strung through four holes. There is no title page but the first page features four Japanese vermilion seals.

This is the original edition of Jayaveda’s pastoral poem, the Gitagovinda, celebrating the loves of Krishna and Radha. The oblong-format work, consisting of 36 folios, is printed on paper in seven lines of Nagari script per page, and the foliation is indicated in the left-hand margin on the back of each page. The volume features an ornamental snow-crystal motif that crops up throughout the text, a characteristic device used by the Indian publisher Baburam. This edition was printed in Calcutta in 1808, in imitation of manuscripts. The present-day binding, made in the museum in 1991, is an extremely faithful reproduction of the book’s original appearance.

This work, an original edition with a period red leather half binding, was printed in 1838 (Hegira 1254) in Singapore on the presses of the American Mission.

The author, a writer nowadays regarded as the father of modern Malay literature, recounts the journey he undertook in 1838 on the eastern coast of the Malacca peninsula (South Indochina) where he was employed as an interpreter. He was acquainted with Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore (1819), and was also connected to American Protestant missionaries for whom he worked at the printing works they had set up in Singapore. These texts were translated into French by Edouard Dulaurier, who held the first chair in Malay, established in 1841, in Paris at the Ecole spéciale des Langues orientales.

The text is meticulously printed on machine-made paper using the Roman alphabet on the left and Arabic (Jawi) script on the right. This first edition of the work is moreover one of the oldest books printed in Singapore.

Forsaking anecdotal details or a frame around the principal image, the artist Hakuin has achieved a pure expression of meditation: that undertaken by the first Zen patriarch Daruma (Bodhidarma) who sat facing a rock for nine years. The abstraction of the silhouette, sketched with a swift, confident brushstroke in the manner of an ideogram, conveys a savage energy that seems to emanate from the patriarch’s body and the painter’s hand alike. An inscription echoes this symbolic image of spiritual quest: “Looking inside himself, man becomes Buddha”. Hakuin’s intuitive, calligraphic art reflected the essential teaching of the Rinzai sect -which rejects rationalism and all systematization of thought- asserting itself as the key to untrammelled spiritual freedom.

Such intuition was apparently the principal avenue of exploration in monochrome Zen painting, the aim of which was to achieve intense expressiveness, explaining why these artists tended to disregard academic rules.

Hakuin, famous in his lifetime as a reformer of Zen thought -or more precisely the thought associated with the Rinzai sect- also emerged as the founder of a profoundly new esthetic that marked the development of Zen art beyond the Edo period. His originality is displayed not in his choice of subjects but in his free treatment of the latter in tight compositions with simplified contours. This portrait of Daruma facing the wall is a recurrent theme in his work and attests to the artist’s maturity with his spontaneous style and the impact of the commentaries found in his compositions.

This painting depicts the bodhisattva Fugen (Sanskrit Samantabhadra), his hands clasped in a gesture of prayer. He is arriving on a cloud astride his traditional mount: an elephant (rokuge byakuzo), whose six tusks symbolize the six cardinal virtues of Buddhism. This bodhisattva incarnates Practice or Application and appears here- against a plain ultramarine background -as the principal icon on a lotus flower plinth, with two golden haloes from which radiate twin rays of light executed in kirikane.The procession of divinities escorting Fugen bosatsu is a characteristic feature of this painting’s iconography: the cortège is formed by the ten Rasetsunyo (Sanskrit Rakshasi), female figures with superhuman powers. In fact their function is very similar to that of Fugen himself: to protect the faithful believers of the Lotus Sutra. In the foreground of this scene, at the two lower corners of the painting, a pair of haloed guardian kings is portrayed.

Stylistically, this work is typical of the Kamakura period in its dynamically expressed movement, realistic depiction of certain facial appearances and attitudes, and the shimmering overall harmony embellished with gold. All the elements of the finery and attributes are painted in kindei; only the rays of the halo are executed in kirikane, with an underlying “tan” vermilion to give added brilliance. It nevertheless retains certain esthetic features of the late Heian period (794-1185). The linear face of the divinity, for instance, is reminiscent of the 12th century Fugen bosatsu in the Tokyo National Museum collection. The bold ink outlines of the Rasetsunyo’s Chinese robes on top of the coat of bright colors evokes the second, “colorist” style of the Heian period. Moreover, these figures display iconographic affinities with those which feature in the painting of Fugen in the Rozan-ji dating from the late Heian period.

This religious image portrays the Great Being of Compassion, the bodhisattva Kannon. Standing on a plinth representing a lotus flower, and holding in his left hand a stem of the same flower, the Buddhist symbol of purity, the effigy corresponds to the early iconography of this great bodhisattva, especially revered in Japan in the latter half of the Fujiwara period.The precision of the iconography suggests that this sculpture was designed as one element of a set of three, centred around Amida, the Transcendent Buddha of the West, together with a matching representation of another great bodhisattva, Seishi, the incarnation of wisdom. From a stylistic point of view, this work is comparable to the finest sculptures commissioned by the Fujiwara regents. Influenced by the Jocho school, with its undeniable physical presence and sensuous contours it epitomizes the almost classical balance found in creations of the period. It displays particular affinities with the sculptures on the Konjikido altar at the Chuson-ji, dated from 1124, notably in regard to the slight sway of the hips and the softened expression of the visual features; it can apparently be dated to the early 12th century.

The latter period witnessed an evolution in wood sculpture. In the place of sculptures carved from single blocks of wood, several separate elements were assembled and then coated with colored pigments or gold leaf.

This statue illustrates the development of Japanese Buddhism, particulary Pure Land Buddhism (Jodu-shu). Depicting the “Descent of Amida” (raigo), such triad groups -found in painting as well as sculpture in the course of the 10th century- indeed symbolized the consideration which the latter Buddhist sect enjoyed at the court of Heian-Kyo in the 11th and 12th centuries.

This is the figure of a warrior, dressed in a robe and wearing a helmet. His features are impassive, his eyes and mouth mere holes pierced in the clay. His baggy trousers are fastened tightly below the knees by a cord, while gauntlets and a dagger are tucked into his belt. The painstaking attention to detail indicates the figure of a noble warrior, and the style of dress suggests that he came from the northern region of Kanto. Standing, perched on a cylinder -in fact a haniwa or “clay cylinder”- strikingly realistic figures of men, priestesses and animals were represented in this way, along with images of shields, houses, offering bowls or simple tubular haniwa. The extremely wide variety of facial appearances, costumes and expressions found on these figures reflects a well-established social hierarchy.

All the figures were made from coils of clay and fashioned by means of spatulas.

At this period, the haniwa were placed in a circle around the burial mound kofun and in trapezium form around the front of the tomb. The figures representing humans and animals were placed to the fore to ward off profanity and evil. Moreover, they symbolically celebrated the ceremony of transfer of spiritual power from one sovereign to the next. As witnesses to and actors in the ceremony, they attest to the fact that it was carried out at the very site, and confer upon it an eternal quality.

From the late 3rd century CE, large burial mound tombs were built throughout Japan, showing that society was organized into clearly distinguished social classes, led by local chiefs for whom such tombs were reserved. The arrival of Buddhism introduced new modes of burial and led to the disappearance of haniwa.

The landscape depicts a large river flowing through gently rolling banks from one end of the screens to the other -one of the “famous places” meisho, painted since the Heian period (794-1185). It can be identified as the river Uji from the water wheel, the fishermen’s nets and the silvery waves. A series of fans, swept along by the current, punctuate the rhythmically drawn waves; their opaque, vivid colors contrast with the muted tonalities of the silver oxide powder. Evoking competitions of poetical composition and displaying autumnal hues, they suggest the literary climate of the Heian period. The rarity of such a thematic association adds to the outstanding character of these screens. The opulence of the composition with its powerful, sumptuous gold leaf ground is typical of the pictorial style established during the Momoyama period (1573-1603) and the early Edo period.

From the 16th century, such screens were among the preferred supports for Japanese painting. Traditionally designed in pairs, they served to partition off interior spaces while appearing as veritable pictorial creations, often expressing the quintessential esthetic of their period.

Here, the contrast between a straightforward composition and each meticulously painted fan heralds an innovative pictorial vocabulary specific to Edo modernity, and allows the work to be dated fairly precisely. It appears to follow the blossoming of the Sotatsu style between the 1620s and 1640s. It is a work that both recalls the past and announces the future; the vitality of its stylistic interpretation allow it to transcend the nostalgia of omnipresent literary references and imbues it with much of the modernity of the 17th and 18th centuries.

This dish sara has a gently rounded curve and stands on a high base. It has a classic form known as “wooden base bowl”. The exterior of the base was frequently decorated with a “comb-shaped design” Kushijo consisting of regularly spaced vertical lines. The jar motif is symmetrically repeated three times sanpô moyô in a typical Nabeshima fashion displaying extreme refinement and a distinct decorative layout. Such features adopted stylistic guidelines laid down around 1680, paving the way for an esthetic canon specific to this type of ceramics. The profound feeling for nature, daring compositions and choice of color ranges that are also characteristic of Nabeshima prints are deployed with matching talent in the porcelain ware. This included several genres, distinguished by the type of coloring agent or glaze employed. The polychrome decoration represents the most refined Nabeshima style, involving the use of blue, green, yellow, and red which was reserved for the principal (often floral) motif.

Nabeshima production displayed great expertise in formal execution and called for the use of carefully selected materials. The pieces were created in a series of stages. The outlines of the motifs were drawn in cobalt blue and coated in glaze. After an initial firing at 1350°C, these motifs were then infilled with green and red enamels under a second coat of glaze and given a second firing at around 850°C.

Nabeshima ware is the most accomplished form of Japanese ceramics. Indeed, according to 19th century documents, such pieces were never sold or exported but reserved as gifts for high-ranking Tokugawa dignitaries.

These three prints depict an episode from the Tale of Ise (Ise monogatari), in this case the flight of the illicit lovers. The couple, hiding among the reeds in the Musashi plain, is lit by the rising full moon, magnificently represented in pulverized white mica. This particular scene shows the discovery of the loving couple by the provincial governor whose henchmen are replaced by five women holding lanterns on the two adjacent prints. These female figures, with their enchantingly palpable sensual beauty are typical of Utamaro’s style, which is imbued with highly refined psychological awareness. He succeeded in proposing a new feminine ideal: slender, haughty and sedate. Besides idylls set in natural surroundings he also dealt with such themes as celebrated loving couples, portraits of courtesans, and erotic visions of the Yoshiwara (the Edo “pleasure quarter”).

The 1790s marked a turning point in the development of ukiyo-e (paintings of the “Floating World”): the polychrome print achieved supreme technical perfection as a result of successive printing onto the same proof of several woodblocks with different colors of ink. From 1765, these woodblock prints, with their varied thick colors and embossed paper that brought life to the areas of white, were known as nishiki-e (brocade pictures).

Around 1790, Utamaro emerged as the leading figure in the ukiyo-e movement. Right from the beginning, this style captivated the Japanese people and it blossomed during the Edo period, a great, middle-class inspired revival, but one that flourished within the context of a civilization that had been brilliantly cultivated by the aristocracy, the military class and the clergy.

The large, horizontally slit eyes of this statuette have earned it the name of “Snow Goggle Dogu” as their shape is reminiscent of the eye protections used by the Inuit against reflected sun on snow. According to another interpretation, they represent closed eyelids, linking the Dogu to the world of the dead. The head has an ornamental crown of hair, while the nose is a mere hole located between two eyes without eyebrows. Two relief bands representing necklaces encircle the neck. The harmoniously curved torso with wide hips and shoulders extends into two arms and is decorated with a sinuous network of corded marks embellished by rows of dots. The tiny proportions of the hands and feet again characterize this type of Dogu, essentially restricted to female figures. Dating from the very late Jomon period, they have been most commonly found in northern regions, mainly Tohoku and Kanto in Aomori prefecture.

Such Dogu, or “Clay Dolls”, were fired at low temperature (800°C) and are hollow.

Their exact ceremonial purpose is still not clear. They are usually found in tombs near villages, sometimes deliberately broken and scattered, perhaps with some prophylactic aim in mind. Their female shapes also link them to fertility cults; they were associated with shamanistic practice, acting as intermediaries between the terrestrial and supernatural worlds. In the following Yayoi period (300 BCE-300 CE) this type of statuette totally disappeared. Along with cord-marked pottery they were one of the most typical Jomon art forms.

The decoration on the lid depicts a garden and a pavilion where Prince Kaoru is meditating, sitting beside his writing case. As a counterpoint to the latter, mountains rise in tiers against a hirameji ground, suggesting twilit distances in the manner of landscapes in Yamato-e style paintings. In the foreground, chrysanthemum and campanula stems bend under the autumn wind, a decoration that is repeated with the same naturalism on the back of the lid and on the inside shelf of the writing case. In addition, the case contains four incense boxes, the decoration of which evokes a chapter from book LII of the Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari): a bouquet of mauve flowers in a lacquered bowl, a nightingale singing among pine and plum tree branches, and a pair of grasshoppers on autumn flowers.

In a style that blends sumptuous golds and delicate design, this writing case illustrates the eminently pictorial aspect of early 18th century lacquerwork. The technical perfection in no way inhibits the ethereal charm of expression, and the artist has managed to fully convey the nostalgic atmosphere of the “Tale of Genji”.

Lacquer has been applied to the wood in several coats, each coat being successively dried then sanded. The maki-e (sprinkled paint) decorative technique consisted in sprinkling the gold and silver powder onto a lacquered decorative design and then covering it with further coats of lacquer. Poetic composition and calligraphy were the prerogatives of a wife of a lord or aristocrat. The writing case, paper box and low table formed an ensemble with a homogenous decoration. Such ensembles were widespread during the Edo period, characterized by the expansion of a new urban, middle-class culture that sprang from economic development and the prosperity of large cities.

This Gigaku theatre mask represents Karura, a divine bird in Indian mythology that was introduced into the Japanese Buddhist pantheon as one of the eight guardian divinities. The bird’s ferocious appearance is heightened by its long hooked beak, framed by red feathers, in which it holds a pearl. Originally the bird boasted a crest, which has since disappeared. The stylistic and iconographic features of these masks reveal not only Chinese, but also Central Asian, and perhaps Greek influences.

The sculpted paulownia wood mask concealed the actor’s face, and traces of red and green pigmentation show that this specimen was originally painted in bright colors to emphasize its fantastic aspect. The outer surface was first given a fine coating of gesso, then a coating of lacquer, and finally colored paints were applied.

Today, Gigaku masks are the sole vestiges of a dramatic art that reached its pinnacle in 8th century Japan. Gigaku theatre performances combined mime, masked dances and music. Despite their secular character they were closely associated with the rituals of great Buddhist temples. This mask, for instance, was worn during the consecration ceremonies for the great Buddha of Todaiji in 752 (see the internal inscription).

It attests to the potent influence of foreign Buddhism at this period, transmitted by Chinese, Indian and South Asian monks. These monks came to Japan accompanied by artists who were to bring with them an artistic repertoire composed of borrowings from the various cultures found along the Silk Road. Throughout this period, Japan devoted its intellectual and political efforts to assimilating a continental culture of which Buddhism was the most representative institution and the most dynamic school of thought.

The Nagaraja, or “Serpent King”, is a traditional figure in the Indian pantheon of naturespirits. The deity is represented in composite form: part man, part animal. The back consists of a series of reptilian coils; both the human and snake heads are missing and were originally surmounted by the hoods of a polycephalous cobra. In India, reptiles- guardians of underground treasures– were reputed to bring rain. Accordingly, the (now missing) right arm of the Nagaraja was stretched out to heaven to summon the fertilizing showers. His left hand, drawn back to his breast, probably held a bowl or chalice to catch the rainwater.

Stylistically, this figure displays all the characteristics of the Mathura style during the Kushan period (1st -3rd century CE): forcefully modelled body in the tribhanga (triple flexion) posture, hips girded with a transparent dhoti fastened by a broad cloth belt, naturalistic treatment of the abdomen, garland of flowers around the neck -echoing the ceremonial necklaces with which devotees bedecked statues of their gods- and the impression of movement accentuated by the advancing right knee and by the treatment of the belt.

The Northern Indian Mathura school of sculpture, one of the country’s most flourishing, was continuously active from the 3rd century BC down to around the medieval period. The heyday of Mathura art coincided with the rule of the Kanishka dynasty, and in particular with the reign of the emperor Kanishka, a powerful sovereign and devout Buddhist. The Mathura style exercised considerable influence on subsequent styles and paved the way for the emergence of Gupta (4th-6th century) art, considered to be India’s “golden age”.

This miniature depicts the surrender of Persian troops- seen on the right, on horseback or on foot-handing over the keys to the city to Kilij Khan whose haughty silhouette appears on the left, mounted on a white steed and wearing a black-plumed turban. The panoramic tableau- heightened by the plunging view over the city that creates an open-air atmosphere- is uncommon in Mughal painting. The painting is typical of the finest productions from the imperial workshop around 1640. The composition includes separate, symmetrical registers, skilfully rendered in a subdued vein. The upper background of this extremely well organized painting shows a citadel-probably Kandahar-treated in casually expert perspective. The surrender scene itself takes place in the foreground, and is inscribed in a virtual square, vertically subdivided into two parts.

Shah Jahan (1628-1658) was doubtless the most splendid of the Mughal emperors. The sovereign’s Official Chronicle, or Padshanama brimmed with illustrations by the greatest imperial artists. Certain miniatures (including this one) were in all likelihood removed from the manuscript in the 18th century. This page, depicting the surrender of a city- probably Kandahar- is one of the most interesting paintings in the chronicle. It provides a pictorial account of a key military event which took place in 1637-1638 under Shah Jahan’s reign. The great Afghan fortress of Kandahar, commanding a strategic position on the road to India and a hub of trade, was bitterly fought over by Safavid Persia and the Mughal Empire in 1595 and 1622. In 1638, Shah Jahan again forced Kandahar to surrender but the city was definitively re-annexed by the Persians in 1653. The manuscript of the Padshanama is today in the collections of the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.

This miniature in the Guler style is a graceful, sensitive evocation of a young queen, shown leisurely smoking a narghile while dreamily listening to two female musicians. In a highly poetic vein, it attests to the Upper Punjab artists’ taste for intimist scenes, at the same time illustrating the essential qualities of Guler art in which women are depicted as exquisite, delicate creatures, a feminine ideal characteristic of the celebrated Kangra style. Both the Guler and Kangra styles were attached to amorous themes involving secular scenes or the loves of Krishna.

The closing centuries of Indian art (16th-18th centuries) were characterized by a major development of album painting and a profusion of distinct schools. From the 16th century down to the 18th century, the “Great Mughals” dominated all Northern India. These glittering Sunnite Muslim emperors presided over a highly refined art form that coexisted with other, more authentically Hindu, painting: illustrations of the great classics of Indian literature, or portraits of sovereigns and their entourages. In the Punjab, “Pahari”, or hill painting flourished from the mid-18th century.

This work belongs to the production of Rajput pictorial schools that were already displaying strong Mughal influences. These were to intensify after the sack of Delhi in 1739 by the Persian Nadir Shah. Indeed, many artists who had adopted the Mughal tradition left the capital and moved to principalities in Rajastan, or to the foothills of the Upper Punjab. Their arrival introduced changes to the esthetic conventions of abstraction and idealization in Rajput painting, and enriched the latter with a renewed thematic repertoire. This was precisely the case with Manak who sought refuge in Guler in 1740 and to whom this work is attributed.

This sculpted sandstone effigy represents Rishabanatha (or Adinatha), first of the twenty- fourJain Tirthankara (ford makers). In the Jain religion, these are masters whose role is to transmit fundamental doctrinal tenets down the centuries. The Jina Rishabanatha is portrayed naked, seated on a cushion in the lotus or vajraparyankasana diamond position. His hands are clasped in his lap, making the symbolic dhyanana mudra gesture of meditation. The stylized hair with its uniform curls, some of which fall in locks onto both shoulders, enable the Jina to be identified with absolute certainty, as the hairstyle is specific to this particular Tirthankara.

Plunged in fathomless meditation, the Jina seems to have withdrawn from secular attachments and worldly contingencies. The dual prerequisites of inner purity and liberating asceticism expressed by the immobile posture and impassive features are particularly well rendered here. With supreme craftsmanship, the sculptor has succeeded in harmoniously blending the subdued iconographic canons of the Jain esthetic with the refined, yet radiant forms of medieval Indian Chandela statuary of the 11th-12th centuries.

This Jina was particularly venerated by the Digambara (sky-clad) sect who dedicated three temples to his cult: Parsvanatha, Ghantai and Adinath, erected on the site of Khajuraho, the ancient capital of the Chandela dynasty. These temples house almost sixty images of Rishabanatha, occasionally represented standing entirely naked, but more often portrayed in the same attitude of meditation as seen here.

This torso of Buddha, sculpted in the characteristic pink sandstone of the Mathura region, epitomizes the style of the workshops of this school during the Gupta period. The perfectly symmetrical, frontally represented, standing figure formerly projected in very high relief from a slab of the same material. The Buddha-nowadays headless-displays a particularly sensitive modelling specific to effigies in this style. The characteristic silhouette, with its broad shoulders, narrow hips, sturdy arms and long, slender legs visible beneath the robe, already corresponds to a certain classical canon. Moreover, the ethereal body with its rippling muscles is clothed in a thin, transparent, monastic uttarasanga robe. The drapery is given a “clinging” treatment, revealing the contours of the antarasanga undergarment. The missing right hand was no doubt originally represented in the symbolic “abhaya mudra” gesture, indicating freedom from fear.

The head of the Buddha was formerly encircled with a large halo, a fragment of which- decorated with floral and pearl motifs against a background of lush foliage- is still intact over the figure’s left shoulder. The purity of form, harmony of proportions, skilfully executed bust, and virtuoso treatment of the robe and halo make the piece the very archetype of Buddhist sculpture from this period, perpetuated down through the centuries in South East Asia, Tibet, and as far as China and Japan.

In India, the Gupta style left its mark on the classical and post-classical periods which flourished between the 4th and 8th centuries CE. The Gupta period was the “golden age” of Indian civilization and witnessed unprecedented florescence of all the arts. In sculpture, two schools and two styles- Mathura and Sarnath- prevailed by reason of their outstanding quality.

In India, since the most ancient times, woman has been the object of special devotion. Indusvalley figurines, fertility deities, and the goddess figures standing guard at the entrances to Gupta holy places are all illustrative of the fact that the female image – right up to the medieval period – was an eternal theme for Buddhist or Brahmanic sculptors. The traditional representation of female sensuality – as seen here – was maintained down the centuries. Only the bust of this female tree spirit, leaning against a fragment of foliage, has survived intact. The figure is endowed with an ample bosom, and both the position of her head – slightly tilted to the right – and the twist of the bust are perhaps indicative of the original tribangha or “triple flexion posture”, characteristic of Indian sculpture. The earrings and long pearl necklace are tokens of the abiding passion of Indian women for jewels and finery.

This appealing sculpture, with its naturalistically treated body, curvaceous forms, and purity and grace was destined to join the countless minor goddess figures – devata, who charmed the gods by their presence, and female tree spirits, or shalabhanjika, symbolizing fertility”who embellished the walls of Indian shrines.

The production of Northern Indian art in the medieval period (9th-14th centuries) was rich and varied. An extraordinarily forceful and exquisite Brahmanic art blossomed in the great northern provinces – for instance in Rajasthan, or in Western Madhya Pradesh at Khajuraho-which witnessed the emergence of distinct architectural and sculptural styles. In most of these regions, the often-grandiose architecture was always lavishly decorated.

This bidri water pipe (huqqa) base has a floral decoration of poppies and irises, the upper and lower areas of which are framed by geometric friezes. The motifs are highly stylized, in accordance with Islamic tradition that prefers abstract or calligraphic floral themes to animal or human representations. In pieces dating from this period, arabesque ornamentation was most often replaced by a more symmetrical, balanced and subdued arrangement that displayed an acute sense of volume. The elegance peculiar to this production played upon the contrast between the shimmering inlaid metal decoration and the black ground. The bell shape of the huqqa is the result of developments that took place around the 1730s and 1740s when this new shape superseded the spherical belly form that had previously been fashionable.

The term bidri refers to the type of metalwork produced in the town of Bidar. This involved the use of cire perdue technique to produce the cast which was then generally decorated with inlaid silver or brass on a blackened ground composed of a mixture of red clay and resin. In the early 18th century, bidriware underwent a major change, characterized by a finer finish, an improved and more reliable quality of metal inlay, and smoother surfaces.

The town of Bidar was the capital of a Muslim sultanate, located south of the regions under direct Mughal rule. From the 15th century, it became the main centre for Indian metalwork production; the creative techniques employed often derived from Persian decorative models inlaid with silver and gold.

From the earliest centuries of our era, the region of Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh in the Southern Deccan was a flourishing Buddhist centre that witnessed the development of a highly original art. Despite some subtle foreign influences, this work remains fundamentally Indian. The elongated face recalls certain specifically Dravidian features: the earlobes are distended, the urna-a distinctive mark of the Buddha, always placed at the junction of the eyebrows-is conspicuous, as is the usnisa. The latter small protuberance on the upper head can be seen rising beneath the hair which is treated in regular, stylized curls ritually spiralling to the right. Figurative representations of the Buddha only appeared in the Amaravati school from the 2nd century; up till then there had solely been symbolic references.

Occasionally, a foreign- and, more specifically, Romano-Alexandrine- influence can be detected in the production of the Amaravati school and is clearly expressed in this sculpture with its emphatic realism and expressivity. The great French Orientalist René Gousset described the piece as virtually a “Statue-Portrait of Ancient Rome“.

Such influences can be explained by the historically attested maritime contacts and trading relationships between the east coast of India and the Mediterranean basin during the first two centuries of our era. Numerous fragments of pottery from Arezzo (Latium) and Roman coins from the age of Augustus and Claudius have been discovered along the southeastern seabord of India. One such coin has been, moreover, discovered at the very spot where the head was unearthed.

The iconographical type of Buddha as defined by the Amaravati school between the second and third centuries AD was to gradually establish itself, spreading as far as the Indianized kingdoms of South East Asia.

The decoration here depicts a dragon lost in the clouds-a theme introduced from China and a commonly found feature in works by scholarly and professional painters. The frequency of its use in the 17th century points to a specifically Korean graphic concern, perhaps indicative of a preoccupation peculiar to a period that witnessed a gradual diversification in the demand for ceramics. Accordingly, potters drew their inspiration from scholarly painting where the naturalist style was combined with purely formal exploration of line and space, revealing an astonishing virtuosity.

The almost instinctively buoyant and unaffected graphic treatment of the dragon by 17th century Korean ceramists can be distinguished from the more vigorous approach that had been adopted by Chinese painters of the Song dynasty (960 – 1279). Here the subject is treated with considerable freedom of expression, even with a certain touch of fantasy that enlivens the interplay of lines and energetic, flowing forms. The object also illustrates the transition from the earliest Punch’ong ware-frequently characterized by a high degree of modernity-to the much more realistic motifs, influenced by Academic painting , to be found on pieces from the late Choson (1392-1901) period. This jar decorated in a blend of fantasy and abstraction stands out as one of the finest specimens of this type of pottery.

17th century Korean craftsmen applied a distinctive decorative style-already evocative of painting-to this type of white ceramic with its Confucian restraint. Improved techniques, such as the mastery of iron oxide brown decoration, left room for purely decorative exploration that in itself heralded future stylistic evolution.

This mask is made out of wood and covered in light beige fabric (like the seven others collected by the Varat Mission and which are now in the Musée Guimet). On top of the original, delicately-nuanced polychrome paint, two further coats have been added at a much later date. The artefact depicts a perfectly oval female face. The pronounced line of the eyebrows and the black hair contrast with the extremely pale complexion; the sole touch of bright color is a red spot on the forehead between the eyes.

The figure no doubt represents the young female shaman (“Somu” in Korean) as she was personified in the Sandae masked theatre on the occasion of the festivities to mark the feast of Tano (held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month). In Korea, under the Yi dynasty (1392-1908), the Sandae was a court theatre, placed under the patronage of the king and, for a while, administered by the governmental office specifically responsible for organizing court entertainment and official festivities.

According to the French explorer Charles Varat, whose anthropological findings were published in “Le Journal des Voyages” in 1894, it would appear, however, that these wooden masks were more commonly used in funeral ceremonies. Their purpose was to ward off the baleful influences that accompanied death, and to protect the living from evil spirits. During burials, the role of the dancers-attired in tragic costumes and masks-was to prevent the “malevolent spirit” from escaping. Once the ceremony was over, the “benevolent spirit” was housed in a small, precious receptacle in order to safeguard family members of the deceased.

Besides their prophylactic powers, such masks accurately mirror the Korea of their day. They exhibit a genuine sense of humour and portray, often in an extremely refined and poetic way, a broad tapestry of Choson people and society.

Made from thin sheets of gilded metal, cut and smoothed using a technique inherited from traditions deriving from the Steppe, this crown consists of a circular headband topped by five trident-shaped branches. Cut in symbolic fashion, these branches seem to evoke the branches of a tree, or the shape of a mountain, or even the wings of a bird. Two small golden chains, imitations of braids, hang from either side of the headpiece at the level of the ear. This type of tiara comes from the Silla kingdom (57 BCE-668 CE) and is more stylized and baroque than under the Paekche (18 BCE-660 CE) or Koguryo (37 BCE-668 CE) kingdoms. Stylistic influences are Siberian rather than Chinese. Such crowns have been most often discovered in tumulus-shaped tombs-often of impressive size-along with other finery such as pendant earrings, brooches, belts, swords and, more rarely, shoes made from precious metals.

Occasionally the crowns were embellished with jade tiger fangs-closely associated with the shamanistic beliefs known to the Japanese as magatama-which symbolized power and hence royal authority.

This extremely fragile headdress was worn by high-ranking figures on special occasions. It is believed to come from a tomb in Kyongsang province and dates from the “Three Kingdoms” period (1st century BCE-7th century CE). The Silla kingdom-together with the Koguryo and Paekche, the southernmost of the three sovereign kingdoms that made up Korea at the time-managed to preserved its traditions intact. It was less influenced by China than the Koguryo, and this crown is among the most characteristic specimens of gold and silverware treasures discovered there.

This late 6th century gilt bronze bodhisattva is a masterpiece of Paekche statuary from the Three Kingdoms period (1st-7th century CE). Although possessing a highly personal style, it testifies to the opening up of Korea to continental influences. The youthful face with its adolescent charm displays a genuinely glowing, attractive smile-the celebrated Paekche smile-which distinguishes it from the aloofness of sculpted effigies from the neighbouring Silla kingdom (57 BC-668 CE). The body is frail and bare-chested with a slim waist and slender limbs. Sitting Western-style, the bodhisattva adopts the panga sayu sang meditation position: one leg simply crossed over the other, gently bowed head supported by a lightly touching hand, elbow on knee. This posture, originally found in the art of Gandhara and transmitted via China, was apparently highly appreciated in ancient Korea, North and South, before being adopted by Japan from the 6th century onwards, as illustrated by the celebrated Miroku Bosatsu in the Koryu-ji temple in Nara.

The regularly pleated, frontal hang of the drape, with a “keyhole” arrangement, is reminiscent of that of the Chinese Northern Wei dynasty (386-535 CE). The lines of the drape have been given an extremely soft, flowing treatment, without a hint of stiffness, and this also suggests similarities with Southern China.

The bodhisattva is wearing a typical Paekche crown. In the style of North West Indian turbans, it boasts a crescent motif within which an oval-shaped pearl is embedded, revealing influences from farther afield. This sculpture epitomizes the originality of Korean art, as well as the country’s role as staging post on the Silk Route between China and Japan.

This impressive cast iron piece, complete with its original gilding, represents the image of the “thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara” chonsu kwanum posal. Seated in the oriental posture, the 43-handed entity (each hand with a different attribute) appears to be gently bowing at the feet of a small Amitabha Buddha held over his head by two of his upper arms. Here, the bodhisattva is wearing a princely crown, decorated with fleur-de-lis, derived from an older model already well known at the time of the Kaya kingdom (1st-6th century CE). The large face with its rather narrow forehead reappears on stone statues of typical 10th-11th century workmanship.

This particular Avalokitesvara iconography came directly from the repertoire of Tang dynasty China (618-907 CE) like those featured in the decorative wall paintings in the Dunhuang caves.

Avalokitesvara was in fact the representative bodhissattva of the “Buddha of Light”, the “Buddha of Infinite Life”, in the paradise into which all hope to be reborn. He interceded on behalf of this Buddha, who enjoyed increasing popularity at a period that lay under the shadow of the Mongol threat. According to the calligraphy inscription on the wooden plinth, the statue came from the temple of Tongbang-sa, founded at the time of the Unified Silla (668-935 CE), and particularly active during the Koryo period (932-1392 CE). It is the only known Korean specimen of a sculpture in the round from such an early date to depict this particular image, although the iconography was already apparently in vogue in China under the Five Dynasties (907-960 CE). The statue is therefore a reminder that esoteric Buddhism, originally characterized by Hindu imagery, subsequently developed along lines that progressed logically from Tang China to Heian Japan (794-1185 CE) via Koryo Korea.

The restrained, remarkably refined, and profoundly meditative figure of this “teaching Buddha”, ranks not only as one of the finest Buddhist representations but illustrates the embryonic development of the specific esthetic approach of the Koryo period (918-1392 CE). The technique, unconstrained by a certain rigidity and hieratic attitude that to a certain extent dominated the Unified Silla period (668-918 CE), has become much more flexible and fluid, displaying a genuine concern for realism and humanization. The pliant quality of wood, imitating the appearance and rendering of gilded metal, allowed for greater naturalism and facilitated the flowing treatment of the robe. The gentle, pure figure with its high bust, slim waist, very slightly arched shoulders and elongated face conforms to an increasingly refined canon of taste. On his headdress, the Buddha is wearing a half-shell of the kind which appeared during the Koryo period and which is also found in Chinese images from the Liao dynasty (916-1125 CE).

The teaching Buddha, more alive and more human, succeeded in giving expression to a highly aristocratic Buddhist faith that extolled the vision of an eternal, peaceful and harmonious world.The fall of the Chinese Tang dynasty (619-907 CE) was to have repercussions in the Korean peninsula. In 918 CE, the Unified Silla kingdom yielded to the new Koryo dynasty. Under constant threat from invaders on the northern frontier, the Korean people turned to Buddhism as their sole consolation. The new “religion” came to be regarded as a spiritual bulwark against foreign incursions and it was precisely during this period that the king placed the entire kingdom under the protection of Buddha. Led by royal and courtly example, the whole country gradually espoused the faith and Buddhist icons became increasingly widespread as expressions of a flourishing popular piety.

This large maebyong vase is the Korean version of the Chinese meiping-a type of porcelain already appreciated by the Chinese Northern Sung dynasty (960-1127), and regarded by Koryo ceramicists, whose fame is universally acknowledged, as a veritable tour de force.

The vase has a delicately executed floral decoration beneath a shimmering blue-green celadon glaze and its elegant form is harmoniously matched at the base by a crown of lotus petals. This perfectly balanced, gracefully profiled maeybong is characteristic of the golden age of the Koryo ceramists. The engraved decoration still displays close affinities with Chinese esthetic models, particularly those of the Northern Song dynasty. On the other hand, the slightly bluish tint is specifically Korean. The floral motifs incised beneath the glaze reveal an unambiguous naturalism and a distinct taste for geometrical proportion and flexible line. Monochrome treatment and the use of virtually unembellished raw material were the hallmarks of Koryo craftsmen. Contemplating this piece, we can see how they explored the visual potential of the material itself in order to obtain the perfect hue. Curving forms and ample volumes were other characteristic features of the Koryo ceramists, echoed in bronze works from the same period.

Formally, maebyong ware was associated with a new technique involving inlaid black or white barbotine, introduced in the 12th century and known as sanggam. These elegant ceramics represent a specifically Korean decorative development and epitomize the esthetic discrimination that prevailed during the late Koryo period.

This painted silk folding screen is signed Kim Hong-do (1745-1815?). Following the changing cycle of seasons, the artist has delicately depicted scenes from the daily life of the aristocracy during the Choson period. The various panels portray the dignitary in his sedan chair, travelers crossing paths against the backdrop of a landscape, a passing rider who conceals his face behind a fan, a picnic at the foot of a wall. Men and women attend to their affairs, displaying casual courtesy, without the sophisticated air of Chinese courtiers or the elaborate costumes of Japanese aristocrats from the Edo period (18th century). Here, the figures are treated with humor and poetry. Elegant, lively, serene and, above all, unassumingly dressed, they are portrayed in a meticulously handled atmosphere and backdrop of precisely detailed landscape that are the hallmarks of this painter. Kim Hong-do was acknowledged in his lifetime as one of the most celebrated of the “Office of Arts”, unfettered by foreign models and one who expressed the full potential of his talent on a human scale.

The screen indeed reflects a novel development. 18th century Korea witnessed the birth of a truly national art, led by the great painter Chong Son (1676-1759), an art which broke away from Chinese influences “imbued with Taoism” and from the highly ornamental compositions of Japanese decorative painters. Regarded as a major 18th century artist, Kim Hong-do emerged as one of the undisputed masters of a specifically Korean school of genre painting, the first no doubt who succeeded in depicting Korea in indigenous terms with such virtuosity. The Korean artists who followed on from him drew their inspiration from their own natural surroundings and their own traditions.

This eight-panelled screen, probably dating from around 1760, is one of the finest painted by Kim Hong-do.

The strikingly Hwajodo “flowers and birds” motif used by Yi Han-Ch’ol (1812-1902) reveals a meticulous attention to detail and testifies to the artist’s acute sense of observation and realism. The subjects are depicted with extreme delicacy and lightness of touch yet do not lack precision. Skillfully adopting a technique inherited from Ming dynasty China (1368-1644), the painter plays on the contrast between a dark blue background and the silver strokes of the composition. Some of the motifs featured here, notably those of the ducks and the phoenix, also appeared in the same period in a style known to some as Minhwa.

The traditional “flowers and birds” theme, in this instance treated in a highly decorative, poetic vein, was a genre inherited from Song dynasty China (960-1279). Under the Yi dynasty in Korea, this genre became one of the five categories (along with bamboo, landscape, animal painting and portraiture) included in the entry competition for the Academy of Painting. Here, Western influences seem evident in the exploration of volume and the rendering of depth. On the other hand, the remarkably classical set of themes and the pervading naturalism that prevail in this painting had been abiding features, firmly rooted in Korean sensitivity, since the Koryo period (918-1392).

The right-hand panel of the screen is signed Hui Won, pseudonym of the painter Yi Han-Ch’ol, a high-ranking official and member of the “Office of Arts”. A master who was both respected and highly praised in his own lifetime in all the categories practiced by the Academy of Fine Arts, he is known for his genre scenes painted in a scholarly style as well as for his official portraits. He belonged to that generation of artists who experienced the first contacts with the West.

This work is a masterpiece of restraint, skillfully blending naturalism and psychological realism. The three-quarter-length portrait is set against a plain, deliberately abstract background. The sitter’s forceful presence is heightened by the intensity of his gaze, his hieratic bearing and his dignified features, marked by age and experience. Contours and shading have been applied with extreme precision, creating a depiction that is as detailed and lifelike as a photographic image. He is wearing the traditional costume of the late Choson period: a light colored, full robe, fastened at the waist with a sky blue belt, and a winged, horsehair cap. The form and symbolic character both come from the Chinese Tang dynasty (618-907 ) and are representative of the class of scholarly civil servants under the Yi dynasty who had adopted Neo-Confucian philosophy. The calligraphy at the top right hand corner of the composition presents the seventy-year old senior official under his pseudonym “P’ung eun”.

Yi Han-Chol (1812-1902, 1812-1910 or 1808-1910), a professional painter and member of the Academy, has painted a highly intense portrait that radiates a striking tranquility and humanism. With sensitivity and virtuosity, the artist has succeeded in capturing the lifelike image of a mature man, and in conveying the sense of sheer moral discipline that prevailed among the contemporary class of intellectuals in this “Hermit Kingdom”, voluntarily cut off from the outside world.

The portrait, dated 1845, is a work of maturity. Already in full possession of his art, the painter launched on a court career, painting the portraits of the last sovereigns of the Yi dynasty. This extremely important work epitomizes the harmonious blend of the psychological portrait peculiar to scholarly circles and the illusionism of Western art introduced into Korea via China.

This ewer, with its globe-shaped belly and high, fluted neck, has an extensive carved floral decoration under a blue-green glaze. Characteristic carvings on productions from the Yaozhou kilns under the early Song were deeply incised on this type of piece as much as 5mm deep producing graceful contrasts between the shaded zones created by the accumulation of glaze at the decorative contours, and the lighter zones covering the reliefs.

The motifs were carved into warmed grey clay using a bamboo knife. The piece was then soaked in a bath of glaze and subsequently fired in the kiln at a temperature of 1250o C. Over time, these glazes, applied in successive layers, thickened and took on an olive-green tone.

It was perhaps because of their contrasting colors and painstaking execution that the phenix celadons earned their place as items of imperial tableware. Indeed, this particular piece, with its twin phoenix-head spouts, was presumably intended for the palace of the Empresses, of whom the phoenix was the symbol. Both the decoration and form used reveal stylistic similarities with gold and silver tableware, the decorative models of which, inherited from the Tang (618-907), were related to metalworking arts in the Near East. Nevertheless, they belong to an evolutionary process that was to liberate ceramic decoration from metalworking influences and to provide it with its own repertoire of forms and motifs. This type of glaze also played a key role under the early Song. Carrying on from the Miseyao, it paved the way in elevating ceramics in the eyes of the social elite, first to the rank of tableware, and subsequently to the status of collection objects on a par with silver, gold, and lacquerware.