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Alliance Fran├žaise de Singapour
from Alliance Fran├žaise de Singapour

Following the successful launch of Art of the Ancestors art book launched in December 2008 on Indonesian tribal cultures of Nias, Batak and Dayak, Alliance Française de Singapour will be launching its second series of art book bringing to the readers an insight to the Chinese culture during the 7th – 9th centuries.  

This book, titled “Tang San Cai” is published based on Alliance Française de Singapour’s exhibition “Afterlife of the Tang Nobility: An insight to an important part of the Chinese culture during the 7th – 9th centuries” that was held in April to May 2009 at SG Private Banking Gallery and opened by the French Ambassador to Singapore. The exhibition featured more than 50 pieces of Tang San-cai (or 3-coloured pottery) artifacts and was divided in three sections, namely, Horses and Camels, Figures and Potteries. The exhibition was curated by Chen Jiazi, is presented and organised by Alliance Française de Singapour, with presenting sponsors Audemars Piguet and Lee Foundation, and co-presented by The French Embassy in Singapore as well as the gallery presenter SG Private Banking.  


“Tang San Cai” presents a selection of objects from the Bryan Collection, a private collection from Singapore, in four grand ensembles: riders, figurines, mounts and vessels which are accompanied by four essays written by Chen Jiazi that bring to light the fabrication technique, their function as afterlife objects, as well as their role as “ambassadors” of the dynasty. It invites you to discover this dynamic and prosperous age through an art form whose examples have lost nothing of their brilliance down through the sands of time. This book is written in three languages, namely Chinese, English and French. It is distributed by Thames and Hudson, London.


Background of exhibition and the book 


World civilization for three to four centuries from 200 BC onwards can be said to be somewhat equally dominated by China’s Qin and Han dynasties and Europe’s Roman empire – a time during which both Eastern and Western civilizations were developing at an independent and fairly equal rate.  But the mighty Roman Empire came to an end by the 5th century AD, and elsewhere Europe was about to enter the Dark Ages.  By the 7th to 9th centuries – the golden age of the Tang Dynasty – China clearly stood out as the world’s foremost civilization, unrivalled and unparalleled in the riches and splendour of its arts and culture.  This was the period of the Tang Renaissance.  In terms of economic prowess and military strength, the Tang Dynasty for much of its existence was an invincible force to its enemies along its wide borders. It enjoyed a centralized administration that exerted thorough control over all aspects of government and actively encouraged social interaction among its population and that in turn brought relative peace for much of the 288 years it ruled China. Successful inter-racial relations and effective foreign diplomatic policies also contributed to the popularity and flourish of the Silk Road that connected Asia to Europe.  This further led to the strengthening of China, nurturing a society that prospered and developed rapidly. It was an age of opulence. 


The biggest influences that the Tang Dynasty had, whether upon its contemporaries or on future generations, were its accomplishments in arts and culture as well as the exalted spirit it exuded.  Its arts represented Chinese culture at its zenith, showcasing a prosperous time where nearly every aspect of society was thriving and reflected a powerful era and a society open and relatively well-educated.  In this period of cultural exchange, Tang san-cai (or 3-coloured pottery) served as an amiable ambassador and stood witness to history.  These bountiful and exquisite burial objects exemplified the spirit and soul of the Tang Dynasty and bore testimony to the grandeur of a powerful empire. 


The extravagant burial practice spearheaded by the royal family led to the rapid rise in popularity of Tang san-cai when it emerged in the later half of the 7th century.  The overwhelming demand for san-cai pottery as a fashion statement (or social competition) especially in the first half of the dynasty propelled the rapid development of its technology, which reached its peak in a mere period of some twenty odd years.  It is no coincidence that san-cai was the choice pick for burial goods and decoration during the Tang Dynasty for san-cai pottery fitted seamlessly and harmoniously into the cultural milieu and spirit of the Tang society with its brightly-hued magnificence. Together with the luxurious silk, resplendent frescos, and the glittering gold and silver wares, Tang san-cai reflected the openness and gaiety of Tang society and collaboratively they painted a glorious and splendid picture of Tang culture and provided a complete narrative of its culture from daily life to afterlife. 


Like the many other facets of arts and culture of Tang Dynasty, san-cai was not just a category of pottery.  Indeed, it represents a crystallization of the waves of change and the cultural exchanges that had occurred during that era between China, West Asia and even Europe.  Tang san-cai did not remain buried or confined in the royal tombs of the Tang emperors and patricians; the much admired objects were sought after by merchants and traders alike and many were carried along the Silk Road from Chang’an to the West, making their way to various countries in Central Asia, even wandering into Africa.  Many exquisite pieces can today be found in some of the leading museums, and private collections in Europe, the United States and Japan.  Tang civilization in its myriad incarnations, belong not just to China and the Chinese race, but also to the rest of humanity.  It is one of the most substantial and valuable components of world history and cultural heritage.   


Alliance Francaise has curated this exhibition based on the Bryan Collection.  It is hoped that through the presentation of these Tang san-cai artifacts, we can again experience an era that once was bustling and prosperous, and while doing so, appreciate a beauty that has retained its sparkle and dazzle through the ages. 


Text in Chinese by Chen Jiazi (Researcher in Chinese Arts History)  

Translated from Chinese by Janis Tan


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