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The Literati's Ordinaries: A Proposal of Life from the 17th Century

  • #Calligraphy
  • #Painting
  • #Ceramics
  • #Bronzes
  • #Curio
  • #Rare Books & Documents


This exhibition illustrates a transitory time range in the 17th century, a period that was both intriguing and full of various possibilities. From the perspective of the modern material culture studies, not only we can glance into the story of adventurers that explored new water channels through hardships, under the scope of the East and West exchanges, but also from the viewpoint of the district Jiangnan, to understand the seemingly ordinary, but in fact detail-oriented quality of the literati families' daily rituals. The curatorial focus concentrates on the "calligraphy and painting" and "objects", the two chapters extracted from "Treatise on Superfluous Things" that was written by the modest literati Wen Zhenheng (1586-1645) in the 17th century. In addition to rediscover the cultural contexts embedded by the museum's collection, it is also the purpose to explore the fine elements of the ancients' appreciation towards the objects. Along the process, the picture of related social network is built up and the gradual trend to admire the antiquarian style, which had placed influence on general home accessories is also clarified. The purpose is unfolded by examining the ancient mindsets about one's belongings and then look into the relationship between human and objects in the modern days.

The exhibition is divided into four sections. The first section, "Wen Zhenheng and Treatise on Superfluous Things" traces the outline of the author's life and social encounters, and then through the exhibits of rare books, ancient documents, calligraphies, and also paintings, to explore the publication and circulation of "Treatise on Superfluous Things", which was guarded as the guideline of connoisseurship. The second section, "Taste of Literati" presents the daily accessible objects and the individual opinions in connoisseurship among the ancient literati's circle, which was represented by Wen Zhenheng. The third section, "Applicable Things" showcases objects with collectors' marks to echo the principles of Wen Zhenheng, and to state the varied categories and mindset of collected objects. The final section "In Pursuit of Curios in the Market" exhibits creations in antiquarian style and innovative merchandises that had flooded the market due to the distribution turning common, and had further encouraged objects bearing the marks of celebrated craftsmen or renowned workshops to be a part of the trend.

Each period under the course of time had developed new elements, which are worthy of referring to and learning from. In nowadays, we march forward at a rapid pace daily, and have encounters with everything old and new. Besides the necessities in life, have you ever wondered what things are really the essentials of life? Although the exhibition reconstructs a few certain ways to manifest the social status and to differentiate groups by people in a small number, but through the interpretation of the curator regarding the exhibits, a proposal to recreate a pleasant and aesthetic living is also provided.

Publication: Guide Book to Special Exhibition The Literati's Ordinaries: A Proposal of Life from the 17th Century