ACM’s first special exhibition after its extensive revamp is a marvellous collection of Asian-influenced Christian art made from the 13th through the 20th century.
Christian art usually conjures up images of beautiful mosaics, realistic paintings depicting the life of Christ, and intricately detailed sculptures of the Virgin Mary, Christ, and other important figures of the religion. What’s currently on show at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore offers a different perspective, as well as a deeper insight into the spread of Christianity in Asia.
Take, for instance, a small, exquisite Virgin and Child made in porcelain at the Dehua kilns in southern China – the figure looks remarkably similar to depictions of Guanyin, the popular Chinese deity. In another sculpture of the Virgin and Child, made in Sri Lanka, the ivory is intricately carved with tightly spaced lines to indicate the folds and draping of the shawl the Virgin wears. She is depicted wearing the same type of garment worn by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks.
Also intriguing about these East-meets-West objects in the exhibition is that their makers were not necessarily Christian. Artists of other faiths common across Asian communities, including Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, made art to meet the needs of various religions. Local artists worked with materials and styles they knew best, resulting in a fusion of heritage and cultures in the finished artworks. Collectors of these paintings, carved ivory figures, ceramics, furniture, altarpieces, and shrines were not exclusively Christians either. Some of the treasures in the exhibition come from the courts of Mughal emperors or the Iranian royal courts.
Other highlights of the exhibition include an inlaid metal candlestick made in Syria between 1248 and 1249, which is decorated with both Christian scenes and Islamic motifs; and a portrait of Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), wearing the attire of a Confucian scholar. He spent most of his life dedicated to bringing Christianity to China. And there is an elaborate shrine that curiously brings together European Christian subjects and Indian motifs such as flowers and snakes.
Carve out half a day on a weekend for this blockbuster showcase, as you’ll need the time to go over the more than 150 objects in the exhibition. They trace the history and spread of Christian art across 800 years. These artworks – many of which are displayed for the first time ever in Singapore – are on loan from acclaimed institutions and private collections around the world, including the Louvre and Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, as well as Lisbon’s National Museum of Ancient Art. All the more reason you should pop in for a visit!
Keen to learn more about Christianity in Asia? Pick up the fully illustrated catalogue that contains original essays on Asian Christian art by a group of leading international scholars of this field: Pedro Moura Carvalho, Lauren Arnold, and Istvan Peczel. There’s also a wide array of accompanying activities and programmes, including concerts, workshops, lectures, and curator tours to top off an amazing experience at the museum.
Admission is $9 for local citizens and PRs and $15 for tourists, but entry is free for all visitors from 6 to 10 August 2016 in celebration of Singapore’s 51st birthday. Plus: take part in this contest, and stand a chance to win a pair of return economy tickets on Air France to Paris or Lisbon!
Christianity in Asia: Sacred Art and Visual Splendor exhibition runs from 27 May to 11 September 2016 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Tickets can be purchased at the ACM front desk or via SISTIC.
Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place, Singapore 179555, p. 6332 7798. Open Mon-Sun 10am-7pm (9pm on Fri).
This article is sponsored by the Asian Civilisations Museum.