Me and Kaikai and Kiki, 2010, by Takashi Murakami (Japanese, b. 1962). Silkscreen; platinum leaf on paper; ed. 12/50. Asian Art Museum, Museum purchase, R2016.39.3. © Takashi Murakami. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco conjures images of hippies frolicking in the park with daisies in their hair. But the power of flowers to inspire peace and love goes back far more than 50 years and far beyond our city shores. From June 23 – Oct. 1, 2017 the Asian Art Museum presents Flower Power , an original exhibition of pan-Asian artworks that reveals the powerful language of flowers across times and cultures. 

The exhibition brings to light unexpected connections among gloriously gilded folding screens, modern-looking lacquers, rare porcelains, sumptuous textiles, and contemporary installations of live flowers and sensory-igniting multimedia. Drawn primarily from the museum’s renowned collection, dozens of masterpieces are displayed in a way that highlights their shared botanical bounty. Visitors to Flower Power will discover that for centuries humans have used flowers to communicate ideals from the refined to the revolutionary. 

Flower Power offers a unique take on the spirit of the Summer of Love and its connections to Asian artistic practices, past and present,” says Museum Director Jay Xu. “In addition to serving as an oasis of beauty during this lively anniversary year, our exhibition shows why artists return again and again to floral imagery to express themselves during times of social uncertainty and cultural change — a message that is more relevant now than ever before.”

Powerful Flowers Explore the Human Experience 
“The anti-materialist and pacifist spirit of the Summer of Love was really a starting point for developing the exhibition,” says Flower Power curator Dany Chan. “Ultimately, we were guided in organizing Flower Power as much by the richness of the artworks as by the philosophy behind an ancient Chinese proverb: ‘If you have two pennies, spend one on a loaf and one on a flower. The bread will give you life and the flower a reason for living.’” 

The exhibition uses a thematic approach that invites audiences to explore the lasting appeal and surprising stories of six flowers as distinctive as their blooms. These themes are organized into different galleries and range from the mystical, to the worldly, to the quietly activist, tracing subjects that continue to inspire us in our everyday lives: 

• The transcendence of the luminous, though swamp-dwelling, LOTUS. Visitors to the gallery will be greeted by a Thai painting nearly two hundred years old and over thirteen feet long that depicts the spectacle of Buddha overcoming demonic forces, transforming weapons into tranquil lotus blossoms. The image echoes legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s coining of the expression “flower power” as a call to join peaceful anti-war demonstrations in the 1960s. 

The Buddha overcomes the demon Mara and his forces, and the Earth Goddess creates a flood

The Buddha overcomes the demon Mara and his forces, and the Earth Goddess creates a floodThailand, approx. 1800-1850. Opaque watercolors and gold leaf on woodAsian Art Museum, Gift from Doris Duke Foundation's Southeast Asian Art Collection, 2007.77. Photo:  © Asian Art Museum.

The victory over Mara is the central episode of the Buddha's life for Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhists. It stands for the Enlightenment, and thus the achievement of buddhahood.

This mural-like painting, perhaps the largest outside Thailand, gives a sense of the cosmic scale of the struggle. In the words of an 1871 translation of a Thai version of the life of the Buddha, "King Mara . . . riding on his elephant, a thousand miles in height, led on his army; the van stretched two hundred and fifty miles before him, and the rearguard extended to the very walls of the world."

In the murals in the interiors of temple buildings depicting the victory over Mara is typically situated over the entrance door-in other words, in back of and above visitors as they enter. The primary sculptured Buddha image (usually in the pose known as "victory over Mara") sits at the far end of the building facing the entrance, so visitors find themselves with the victory both in front and behind them. They are in the midst of the victory, as awed spectators, together with heavenly and earthly throngs.

This painting had sustained much damage over the years. Hundreds of hours of work by conservators were required to stabilize the flaking paint and to delicately fill some of the areas of loss. The meticulous effort was supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Society for Asian Art.

• The sophistication of the carefully cultivated, globe-trotting TULIP and ROSE. Gallery highlights include an intriguing Ottoman-era dish that stylizes the esteemed tulips and roses of Western Asia. Such artworks help tell the story of cross-cultural pollination and the circulation of treasured bulbs and seeds across continents and empires — leading to moments like the fabled tulip mania bubble in 17th-century Amsterdam. 


Dish with tulip and other floral motifs, approx. 1575–1600. Turkey, Ottoman period (1281– 1924). Composite-body ceramic with multicolor decoration under clear glaze. Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Menke family in memory of their parents and grandparents Betty and John Menke, 2015.26. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

• The transience of ephemeral PLUM and CHERRY BLOSSOMS. Gallery highlights include lyrical scenes of courtly cherry blossom viewing from the Tale of Genji . The essence of this Japanese classic, perhaps the world’s first romance novel, is poignantly captured on shimmering gold-leaf screens that deploy these short-lived flowers to suggest the fragility of love. 

Scenes from The Tale of Genji1

Scenes from The Tale of Genji, one of a pair, Japan, approx. 1700–1800, Edo period (1615-1868). Six panel folding screen. Ink, colors and gold on paper.Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60D46+. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Scenes from The Tale of Genji

Scenes from The Tale of Genji, one of a pair, Japan, approx. 1700–1800, Edo period (1615-1868). Six panel folding screen. Ink, colors and gold on paper.Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60D47+. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

This work depicts popular episodes from The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari), a famous eleventh-century novel by Lady Murasaki. Its fifty-four chapters tell a romantic and eventful story about the charming Prince Hikaru Genji. The novel was a favorite among court nobles, and soon inspired artists to depict its famous scenes on handscrolls, album leaves, and screens.

In the upper right is the most famous scene of the fifth chapter, "Lavender" ("Wakamurasaki"), in which Prince Genji encounters for the first time the young Murasaki, his future principal consort. Below it is an episode from the third chapter, "The Shell of the Locust" ("Utsusemi"), in which the prince peeks at the wife and the stepdaughter of a provincial officer, Nakagawa. The scenes on the left are from the last ten chapters, which revolve around Kaoru, a young man mistakenly thought to be Genji's son. These episodes take place near the famous Uji Bridge.

• The pause for reflection demanded by the auspicious CHRYSANTHEMUM. Gallery highlights include a “hundred flowers” vase, with each blossom rendered in perfect lifelike tones. The all-over pattern on this delicate Qing-dynasty porcelain from China creates a dizzying array, reminiscent of sixties psychedelic fashions, which conveys tidings of health, longevity, and the introspection and insightfulness from which such lasting prosperity arises. 

Vase with hundred flowers decoration, 1736-1795

Vase with "hundred flowers" decoration, 1736-1795. China; Jiangxi province. Porcelain. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65P13. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

The decorative scheme on this bowl, with a variety of flowers covering the entire body, takes the name baihua di ("hundred flowered ground") to signify that the empire would last as long as flowers grew in the world. This luxurious design was started by the Qianlong Imperial Workshop and flourished during the next two reigns. This piece, perhaps due to the irregular writing shown in the reign mark, was previously published as a nineteenth-century work. The mark, however, is identical to others also written in red enamel on some pieces at the Taipei Palace Museum. One of the stylized Qianlong imperial marks, it was possibly written by the same person (National Palace Mus. 1986: 180, figs. 126, 138, 143). No later reproduction could have achieved such extravagant enamel colors and superb painting as appear on this piece.

Installations by contemporary artists touch on themes of social engagement, provocation, and the enduring power of flowers to express our most cherished values. Together, these artworks underscore how the community-oriented heart of the Summer of Love still beats strong in the Bay Area today.

• Taiwanese American artist Lee Mingwei’s The Moving Garden invites visitors to pluck a single stem from beds of flowers placed in a channel in his sculpture — on the condition that they give the blossom to a stranger, expressing social solidarity at a moment of heightened political insecurity. Lee will speak at the museum on July 27. 

• Japanese paper and print artist Ayomi Yoshida’s Yedoensis comprises hundreds of ephemeral hand-printed cherry blossoms that invoke the unfolding catastrophe of climate change. “As the earth’s temperature rises, the trees
that used to flower in April are now flowering in March … I once believed that the coming of spring and the cherry blossoms would always happen, but lately I am less certain. Will there come a time when the trees fail to bloom?” Yoshida will lead a participatory workshop on July 2. 

• San Francisco–based artist Megan Wilson, a celebrated Mission district muralist best known for her colorful repurposing of pop motifs to address capitalism’s impact on civic society (with a particular focus on issues like gentrification and homelessness), creates a rainbow pathway of giant flowers to lead audiences from her LIZ (Living Innovation Zone) mural on Fulton Street Plaza to the front entrance of the Asian Art Museum and into the exhibition. 

Flower Power also includes recent artworks by the exuberant maestro of smiling daisies Takashi Murakami and the digital collective teamLab.

Cold Life

Cold Life, teamLab (est. 2001), 2014. Digital animation. Duration: 7:15 minAsian Art Museum, Gift of Richard Beleson and Kim Lam Beleson in honor of Joan and M. Glenn Vinson, B65P13. ©  teamLabPhotograph © Asian Art Museum.

Teamlab is an "ultra-technologists group" made up of programmers, mathematicians, architects, animators, web designers, graphic  designers, artists, editors, and more. Based in Japan, the group creates works through a collaborative process of "experimentation and innovation,"  blurring boundaries  between art, science, and technology. In teamlab's works, traditional calligraphic  forms fuse with anime aesthetics to present a digital world  of natural and supernatural imagery. The artists say that their work has been influenced by
the representation  of space in traditional  Japanese art, in which figures and objects share a single, flattened spatial plane.



Festivities of the twelve monthsJapan, 1700-1750, Edo period (1615-1868). Handscroll, Ink and colors on paper. Asian Art Museum, Donated by Mr. and Mrs. Lucius H. Horiuchi in memory of Mrs. Horiuchi's parents: Admiral and Mrs. Charles Maynard Cooke, B86D19. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Jar with 'three friends' flowers, China, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Reign of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1722)

Jar with "three friends" flowers, China, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Reign of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1722). Porcelain with underglaze blue decoration. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60P79. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

summer lotus

Summer lotusYun Shouping (Chinese, 1633 - 1690), dated 1688, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Hanging scroll, Colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, B69D5. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

The lotus is the flower of the sixth month, the flower of summer. It is a symbol of purity because the flower emerges from the mud unstained. As such, the lotus is also known as qinglian, a pun for "incorruptible" (qinglian) officials. It was referred to in a famous eleventh-century essay as the "gentleman among flowers.

Yun Shouping was born to a poor family. Little is known about his early training, but he was reputed to have started painting beautiful flowers at age eight. While his writings suggest an interest in landscape painting in the styles practiced by the scholar elite, he is best known for paintings of flowers. It is likely his early training came from a local school of flower painters, but he took the genre to a level not reached since the Song dynasty (960–1279). He prided himself on his extreme poverty but traveled in the company of the most famous (and wealthy) members of the educated elite. He was a close friend of Wang Hui (see the joint hanging scroll also on display in this gallery) and reportedly chose to paint flowers since he felt he could not compete with that master in painting landscapes. A popular story has it that Yun Shouping left his family so poor at the time of his death that they could not afford a proper funeral and that Wang Hui offered to pay for it.

Plum blossom

Plum blossom (prunus), from the flowers of the twelve months: JanuaryYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.c. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

The theme of this album, the flowers of the twelve months, was popular during the Ming and Qing dynasties. According to an early 1600s list, the herbaceous peony depicted here was associated with the fourth month of the lunar calendar. However, the selection of flowers used to represent the seasons or months was by no means set or routine.


Peach, from the flowers of the twelve months: FebruaryYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.a. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Magnolia and quince

Magnolia and quince, from the flowers of the twelve months: MarchYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.d. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Herbaceous peony

Herbaceous peony, from the flowers of the twelve months: AprilYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.b. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

The herbaceous peony (shaoyao) is one of two commonly cultivated types of peonies in China, the other is tree peony. Among the many names for the peony is "flower of wealth and honor" (fuguihua). Regarded as the "king of flowers," the peony is associated with royalty; among flowering plants its rank was seen as the equivalent to the highest among officials in imperial China.

Lily and pinks

Lily and pinks, from the flowers of the twelve months: MayYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.e. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.


Lotus, from the flowers of the twelve months: JuneYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.f. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.


Poppy, from the flowers of the twelve months: JulyYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.k. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.


Hibiscus, from the flowers of the twelve months: AugustYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.j. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

The hibiscus is called mufurong in Chinese and often used as a pun for "wealth" (fu) and "glory" (rong). Another name is "intoxicated hibiscus" (zuijiu furong) because the pinkish white blossoms, which open early in the morning, turn crimson at night. One of nine flowers of autumn, the ancient name for the hibiscus was "resists frost" (jushuang).

Canna and red knotweed

Canna and red knotweed, from the flowers of the twelve months: SeptemberYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.g. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Yellow hibiscus and aster

Yellow hibiscus and aster, from the flowers of the twelve months: OctoberYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.h. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.


Chrysanthemum, from the flowers of the twelve months: NovemberYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.i. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Wax plum, nandina, and Lohan pine

Wax plum, nandina, and Lohan pine, from the flowers of the twelve months: DecemberYun Bing (Chinese, 1670 - 1710), 1670-1710, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Album leaf, Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.l. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

This painting of wax plum, nandina ("heavenly bamboo"), and Lohan pine is a play on a popular motif called the "Three Friends of Winter" (suihan sanyou), which includes the regular plum (mei), the regular pine (song), and the regular bamboo (zhu). Each of these three plants is known as a survivor of the harshness of winter, and together they came to symbolize the Confucian virtue of maintaining one's integrity in trying times.

This album leaf bears the artist's inscription: Respectfully painted by Nanlan nüshi, Yun Bing. A descendant of Yun Shouping, Yun Bing was one of the better-known women painters of the 1700s. She was admired for her finely detailed and brilliantlycolored paintings of flowering plants such as this series of album leaves.

Lidded cup

Lidded cup in the shape of a chrysanthemum, China, 1776, Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Reign of the Qianlong emperor (1736-1795). Lacquer. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B65D49.l. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Tao Yuanming

Tao Yuanming Picking Chrysanthemums, Huang Yongyu (Chinese, 1924), 1983. Hanging Scroll, Ink and colors on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Jack Anderson Collection, 1994.119. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.


Footed dish with design of cherry blossoms, baskets, and stream, Japan, Nabeshima, 1700-1800, Edo period (1615-1868). Porcelain with underglaze blue and red enamel decoration, Nabeshima ware. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B62P23. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Cherry-blossom viewing

Cherry-blossom viewingJapan, 1600-1700, Edo period (1615-1868). Six panel folding screen, Ink, colors and gold on paper. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B62D9+. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Several people, old and young, are shown here merrily enjoying cherry blossoms on a mountainside. Nearly half the picture is covered with cherry blossoms and peonies in full bloom. The terrain suggests that the artist was depicting Mount Yoshino in southern Nara prefecture, which is famous for spectacular beauty of its cherry blossoms. The most prized trees are ones that have been grafted from those that grow on this mountain. Of the many spring flowers, the cherry is the most beloved by many Japanese, who admire it all the more because it blossoms only about a week each year. People go to mountains, parks, temples, and shrines during this brief season, and—delighted by the blossoms and enlivened by the warm air—they eat, drink, and dance. This centuries old tradition has continued unchanged even into modern times, though there are now many other opportunities for entertainment.

Birds and autumn plants

Birds and autumn plants, one of a pair, Japan, 1700-1800, Edo period (1615-1868). Six panel folding screen, Ink, color and gold foil on paper. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60D75+. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Birds and autumn plants2

Birds and autumn plants, one of a pair, Japan, 1700-1800, Edo period (1615-1868). Six panel folding screen, Ink, color and gold foil on paper. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60D76+. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

This pair of folding screens is filled with birds of many kinds, flittering about among chrysanthemums, wispy eulalia (miscanthus), and other typical late autumn plants. In addition to the quail feeding on the ground in the left screen—a bird frequently paired with autumn plants by artists of the Tosa school, which specialized in traditional Japanese themes and styles. There are wagtails, waxwings, tits, redpolls, kingfishers, and other birds real or imagined. We have tried to identify as many as possible (many thanks to our conservator and birder Mark Fenn for help with this). How many can you find?  

Incense container with chrysanthemum design

Incense container with chrysanthemum design, Japan, late 19th century, Meiji period (1868-1912). Lacquered wood. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B69M24. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

The Buddha triumphing over Mara, flanked by two seated Buddhas

The Buddha triumphing over Mara, flanked by two seated Buddhas, Pala, India, Bihar state, approx. 800-900. Stone (chlorite schist). Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60S123+. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Woman carrying a tray

Woman carrying a tray, Mughal, Northern India or Pakistan, approx. 1600-1700. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of George Hopper Fitch, B86D8. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Profile views of women set against plain backgrounds are typical of works that began to be produced during the reign of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (reigned 1628-1658). Prior to this period, the solitary figure of a woman had rarely been the sole focus of a painting. In most cases, women had been depicted with their male companions. This female court attendant carries a small covered bowl and a sprinkler for perfumed water upon a tray. Her finely pleated skirt, gold-trimmed garments, and embroidered sash reflect the decorative nature of many Shah Jahan era paintings. Floral designs, derived from European textiles and botanical studies, were also inspired by the Mughal emperors' keen appreciation for the beauty of nature. They were an especially popular motif during the seventeenth century.

A woman drawing (Dhanashri Ragini)

A woman drawing (Dhanashri Ragini)India, Hyderabad, Telangana state, approx. 1760. Ink, opaque watercolors and gold on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of George Hopper Fitch, B86D8. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Box with plum tree motif

Box with plum tree motif. Korea, 1800-1900, Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).Lacquered wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl and metal fittings. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B62M13. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

The weathered plum tree is the sole decorative motif on the lacquer surface of this box. The plum blossom, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo are popularly known as the “Four Gentlemen.” Each embodies a virtue of the ideal Confucian gentlemen scholar. Since they bloom in the harsh winter months, plum blossoms in particular symbolize the literati’s unyielding belief, unchanging integrity, and perseverance in the face of hardship. Naturally, scholars enjoyed painting the Four Gentlemen in monochrome ink, and the subject matter was often chosen to decorate ceramics that were associated with scholars.

The particular shape of the plum on this box is noteworthy. The newly sprouted branches are thin, yet strong, and grow straight upward, while the old crooked ones grow out horizontally. Painters during the seventeenth century were fond of this form of the weathered plum tree, and such taste influenced artists of the following generations.

Beauty with Fan Under Prunus

Beauty with Fan Under PrunusChina, 1800s, album leaf; fan, Ink and colors on paperAsian Art Museum, Gift of Joseph and Nancy Wang in memory of Dr. and Mrs. Hsin-Chung Wang, 1998.31.g. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 

Bowl with Florets

Bowl with Florets, Korea, approx. 1400-1500, Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Stoneware with stamped and inlaid slip decoration, Buncheong ware. Incised with a mark of the Bureau of the Royal Kitchens. Asian Art Museum, Gift of Arthur J. McTaggart, 1999.5.71. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Long sleeved kimono (furisode) with imperial cart, aristocratic fans, ball-shaped floral sachet, and auspicious plants

Long sleeved kimono (furisode) with imperial cart, aristocratic fans, ball-shaped floral sachet, and auspicious plants, Japan, approx. 1912-1935. Paste-resist dyed and embroidered silk. Asian Art Museum, Anonymous gift, 2011.16. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

This early-twentieth-century kimono, with its long sleeves and bright colors, would have been worn by an unmarried woman for festive occasions. It dates to around the same time as the two Japanese Friendship Dolls shown in the long case on the opposite wall; can you see the similarity to the dolls' kimonos? The motifs on this kimono include an imperial cart and two fans of the type carried by aristocratic women. A talismanic round floral sachet wraps over one shoulder above flowers and plants of various seasons: pine, bamboo, plum, paulownia, tachibana orange, maple leaves, and chrysanthemum. Such aristocratic and auspicious symbolism expresses high hopes for a young woman's future. Three crests across the upper back represent the family that ordered this garment.

Rectangular tray with plum branch design

Rectangular tray with plum branch design, China, approx. 1400-1600, Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Lacquer with mother of pearl inlay. Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Christensen Fund, BL77M8. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Members of China's educated elite have long had a fondness for objects made for consuming tea and wine. Among the most highly prized works is this type of lacquer tray decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay. The fully opened plum blossoms cover twisted branches in the tray's center, a common motif in paintings and poetry of the time.

Carpet with floral decoration

Carpet with floral decoration, probably Pakistan, Lahore, approx. 1620-1630, Mughal dynastyAsian Art Museum, 2010.316. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

The Mughal emperor Akbar (reigned 1556–1605) set up workshops for knotted carpet production in his capital cities. Carpets such as these were produced for the court and used to adorn the palaces. This carpet was probably produced in a Mughal-sponsored workshop in Lahore. Mughal carpets are distinguishable for the floral elements that are rendered with exquisite detail, made possible by the use of minute and dense knotting. These carpets are also noticeable for their remarkable and unusual colors, which bear testimony to the outstanding skill of local dyers. One color that was frequently used for the field of Mughal carpets is an intense red with bluish reflections. Since this color was derived from an insect known as lac, it is frequently referred to as "lac" red.

Flower arrangements in baskets

Flower arrangements in baskets, Japan, 1650-1750, Edo period (1615-1868). Four panel folding screen, Ink, colors, and gold on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of Lloyd Cotsen, 2003.55. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

This screen depicts four flower arrangements in bamboo baskets, from right to left: white and blue hydrangea, white and blue hibiscus,lotus and lily, and white hollyhock. In Japanese flower arranging, baskets are chosen carefully for their shapes and weaving patterns in order to enhance the beauty of the flowers to be displayed.

Early Japanese baskets, utilitarian in nature, were made in simple shapes using basic techniques. In the 1300s, the Japanese began to use baskets for flower arrangements. The association of baskets with flower arrangement was particularly significant to the tea ceremony; because samurai aristocrats considered the ceremony to be high art, tea ceremony flower arrangement also became elevated as an art form. Baskets were executed using increasingly complex techniques, and the shapes became ever more intricate, exquisite, and interesting.

Mandala of the Womb World (Taizokai Mandara)

Mandala of the Womb World (Taizokai Mandara), one of a pair of Mandalas of the Two Worlds (Ryokai Mandara), Japan, approx. 1800-1868, Edo period (1615-1868). Hanging scroll. Ink and colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, Gift of Gary Snyder, 2004.7. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

What is a mandala? The examples displayed here might be described as "cosmograms"—pictorial diagrams of the cosmological path to enlightenment as described in Buddhist scriptures. Mandalas are closely associated with the Shingon and Tendai schools of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism—a form of Buddhism that is related to the Tantric Buddhism of the Himalayan region. The mandalas shown here were carefully copied after the oldest surviving color mandalas in Japan, a pair dating to the 800s that was kept in Toji temple in Kyoto. Those in turn were copied from earlier Chinese models.

How were mandalas used in Buddhist practice? Traditionally, mandalas have been described as visualization aids for meditation by monks in training. The two paintings reveal the process of human enlightenment, respectively, through innate reason (ri) and knowledge (chi). Some scholars argue, however, that they have been less important as meditation aids than as ritual objects within particular religious traditions.

These mandalas were donated to the museum by Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Gary Snyder (American, b. 1930), who lived in a Zen monastery in Japan for many years and studied various forms of Buddhism, including Shingon esotericism. He acquired these mandalas in 1967.


Calligraphy, Mir 'Ali al-Katib (Persian, died 1556), approx. 1500-1550. Manuscript page. Colors and gold on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of Elton L. Puffer, 2004.40. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

This verse in the Persian language is signed by Mir 'Ali, one of the most admired calligraphers of the 1500s. Mir 'Ali was a master of
"hanging script" (nastaliq), a style of writing that developed in the late 1400s in the Persian world. Thereafter, nastaliq became the preferred script for writing poetry in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and India. Mir 'Ali was active in the cities of Herat and Bukhara (respectively in what are now Afghanistan and Uzbekistan), but his talents were sought by patrons in Iran and Turkmenistan as well. Indeed, even the Mughal emperors of India were avid collectors of his calligraphy a century after his death.

In addition to small objects like this, Mir 'Ali produced designs for large-scale architectural inscriptions. He was also a poet and composed numerous verses to honor his patrons. It is, however, unclear whether Mir 'Ali wrote the verse in the calligraphy exhibited

To each person has been given an atom of courage,
The atoms gathered together form the brilliant sun.
Courage is the purpose of life in the world,
Together the bird's feathers raise it to heights unimaginable!
(based on a translation by Dr. Ismat Nawabi)

One hundred flowers

One hundred flowers, China, Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Handscroll, colors on silk. Asian Art Museum, Gift of Nell Schneider, 2005.1. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

The motif presented in this painting is figuratively known as "one hundred flowers" and literally contains numerous varieties of flowers. To the Chinese this motif augurs good tidings. The scroll begins with spring blossoms and ends with winter ones. The section displayed includes spring and early summer flowers. Among the early spring flowers seen here are plum, apricot, and peach blossoms as well as camellia and wisteria. These are followed by the rose, spring cymbidium, iris, viburnum, and quince blossom. The white gardenia and day lily form one grouping, which is followed by the red tree peony, crabapple blossom, and white magnolia, a combination that forms a pictorial pun for "wealth and rank in the jade hall," a wish for prosperity and high rank. Next to this grouping are late spring and early summer blossoms, including the white pomegranate blossom, corn poppy, red opium poppy, and pink herbaceous peony. Above the peony are the yellow blossom of St. John's Wort and the pink rose. The tiger lily, white lily, and white lotus finish the visible section.

It is traditional in East Asia to append comments on separate pieces of paper to the end of a handscroll. Called colophons, such comments often provide interesting insights into the history of a painting. There are several colophons on this piece; the earliest was written by a man named Xie Fang in 1867. The painting also has colophons by other Chinese collectors and one by a Japanese collector of the early twentieth century.

East Asian collectors also traditionally stamp paintings in their collections with their personal seals. The earliest collector's seal on this work is that of Xiang Zijing (1525–1590). Combined with stylistic evidence, the existence of this seal indicates that the painting was created during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), despite the fact that some of the colophons attribute the work to a Northern Song dynasty (960–1126) artist.

Flower basket in the shape of a toy top

Flower basket in the shape of a toy top, hanakago, Maeda Chikubosai I (Japanese, 1872-1950), approx. 1892-1950. Bamboo, "sesame" bamboo, and bamboo root with aged finish. Asian Art Museum, Lloyd Cotsen Japanese Bamboo Basket Collection, 2006.3.29. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 

Flower basket

Flower basket, Japan, approx. 1912-1989. Bamboo. Asian Art Museum, Lloyd Cotsen Japanese Bamboo Basket Collection, 2006.3.826. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 

Ovoid flower basket

Ovoid flower basket, hanakago, Higashi Takesonosai (Japanese, 1915 - 2003), 1984Bamboo and rattan. Asian Art Museum, Lloyd Cotsen Japanese Bamboo Basket Collection, 2006.3.625. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 

Kosode with goshodoki designs

Kosode with goshodoki designs (samurai-class women's robe), Japan, probably Kyoto, approx. 1800-1850, Edo period (1615-1868). Silk crepe (chirimen) with silk and gold embroidery. Asian Art Museum, Gift of Joan and William Larkin, 2007.15. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 

The kosode is considered the precursor to the modern kimono. Kosode were first worn as undergarments in the end of the Heian period (794–1185); by the late medieval and early modern eras in Japan (the 1500s through the 1800s) they had come to be used as outer garments.

This kosode is of a type classified as goshodoki (literally, "imperial palace motifs"). Worn particularly by samurai-class women from the late 1700s through the early to mid-1800s, goshodoki kosode typically have floral or landscape themes, amid which are placed select motifs alluding to specific literary sources, often scenes from Heian period classical literature or from a Noh play. Over time, however, the themes of these kimonos became more homogenous, and popular motifs were grouped together to create a literary aura without reference to a particular literary source. Also, instead of being covered with designs, many later goshodoki kosode had undecorated upper sections, perhaps bearing only family crests, with patterns around the lower sections.

This kosode was executed using techniques typically seen in goshodoki pieces: The white paste-resist patterns on the pearl grey background were embellished with couched gold-wrapped threads and silk embroidery in red-orange, light orange, purple, yellow, and green. Some of the white-patterned areas were further decorated in red applied with a stencil dying technique known as hitta shibori, which created the effect of miniature tie-dyed dots. Other patterns were enhanced with fine hand-drawn ink lines.

The motifs found in this kosode's design include banana plants (basho), a rope curtain, flowing water, pines, ivy, chrysanthemums, bamboo, and rocks. The predominance of the banana leaves may allude to the Noh play Basho. The fact that the designs cover the entire kosode suggests that this work dates to the early 1800s. 

A Mughal prince


A Mughal prince, perhaps the future emperor Bahadur Shah (reigned 1701-1712) or his son Azim al-Shan (front); Page of calligraphy (back), Mughal, Northern India, approx. 1675-1710. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. David Buchanan, 2007.36.a-.b. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 

Prince Azim al-Shan, the governor of Bengal, is shown here holding a flower in one hand and resting his other on the hilt of his sword. Note his jewelry, consisting of pearls and pink spinels. His dagger, tucked into the brocade sash, appears to have an inlaid jade handle. The gold nimbus around his head is typical of paintings made under the reign of the Mughals, as is the overall sumptuous quality of the painting.

Although a scribe labeled this portrait as that of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah (reigned 1707–1712), it is virtually identical to a known painting of Azim al-Shan, who was Bahadur Shah's son. Such misidentification is quite common, since many albums of portraits included paintings of members of various ruling families. Attributions and titles added later in the margins were sometimes confused among one another. Many albums mimicked those made for the imperial family. Some were even made to sell to European tourists.

Plum blossoms beneath a full moon

Plum blossoms beneath a full moonShūkei Imei (Japanese, 1731 - 1808).Hanging scroll. Ink on silk. Asian Art Museum, Gift from The Collection of George Gund III, 2016.55. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 

The Buddhist deity White Tara

The Buddhist deity White Tara, Tibet, 1800-1900. Thangka. Colors on cotton. Asian Art Museum, Gift from the Paul and Kathleen Bissinger Collection, 2016.92. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 

The Hindu deity Krishna as the god of love, personifying a musical mode (Vibhasa Ragini)

The Hindu deity Krishna as the god of love, personifying a musical mode (Vibhasa Ragini)India, former kingdom of Jaipur, Rajasthan state, approx. 1750. Ink, colors and gold on paperAsian Art Museum, Gift of Annamma and James Spudich, 2016.272. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 


Warhol/Silver, Takashi Murakami (Japanese, b. 1962), 2012. Silkscreen; Ink and platinum leaf on paperAsian Art Museum, Museum purchase, Thomas F. Humiston Acquisition Fund, 2017.2© Takashi Murakami. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Vase with peony scrolls, Northern China, Northern Song dynasty (960-1126)

Vase with peony scrolls, Northern China, Northern Song dynasty (960-1126). High-fired ceramic with sgraffito decoration, cizhou ware. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60P161. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Sgraffito was the most luxurious of all decorative techniques on cizhou wares and was highly valued in part because so few objects were produced using this technique. The design of peony flowers covering the surface of this voluminous vase-one of the largest of its type-reflects the understated elegance typically associated with Song ceramics.

The Hindu deity Surya flanked by Pingala and Danda

The Hindu deity Surya flanked by Pingala and Danda, India, Bihar state, approx. 600-700. Limestone. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B63S36+. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

The deity Surya is associated with the skies, and particularly with the sun. Here he holds the stems of two large lotus flowers that radiate brightness. His sashes flutter at his sides as if blown by the wind. Standing to one side of Surya is his bearded scribe, who carries a pen and inkpot. On the other side is an attendant holding a staff. His name, Danda, means "staff." Scholars link the origins of the deity Surya with the far western parts of the Indian world near Iran, where solar deities were prominent. Even images made in other parts of India, such as this, wear the long robes and boots linked with traditional Iranian dress. (Here the robe clings to the contours of the body, but its lower border can be seen along the lower legs.)

The Hindu deity Parvati

The Hindu deity Parvati, Pala, India, Jaynagar-Hasanpur, Bihar state, approx. 1050-1100. Basalt. Asian Art Museum, B67S2. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

Parvati, the wife of Shiva, holds in her left hand a now-broken figure of her child Skanda; her other child, the elephant-headed Ganesha, can be seen near her right foot. Beneath her lotus throne is the lion she customarily rides. Above her, elephants pour water over her in a gesture of homage.

Vase (maebyeong)

Vase (maebyeong), Korea, approx. 1100, Goryeo dynasty (918-1392). Stoneware with iron painted decoration under the celadon glaze. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60P17+. Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

This type of vase with a swelling shoulder, cupped mouth, the flat base, and no foot is known as maebyeong in Korean or plum vase. A band of chrysanthemum petals or S-shaped lines painted in iron pigment decorates the shoulder area, and a wide band covered completely with iron pigment at the bottom gives the vase a sense of stability. The contour line from shoulder to bottom falls rather straight instead of making the sharp s-curve often seen on plum vases during the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The body of the vase is covered with the floral design known as bosanghwa meaning 'treasure appearance flower' combined with a scroll design. Its brown color identifies it as an oxidation-fired piece. Because both clay and glaze used in making this type of stoneware were the same as those used for grayish blue or green celadons of the reduction-fired pieces of the same period, brown colored stonewares are also called cheongja (grayish blue or green celadons) by Korean scholars.

In the 1983 underwater excavation of Wando-Island, South Jeolla province, were found eleven yellowish-brown plum vases decorated in iron pigment. Three of them similar to this piece in their overall shape, decorative scheme, and design motifs, date to the late eleventh century. The more carefully organized floral scrolls that sweep in curves over its entire surface would indicate that this plum vase was produced at a slightly later date during the early twelfth century.

Dish with moon and plum blossoms motif

Dish with moon and plum blossoms motif, Korea, 1800-1900, Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Lacquered paper with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Asian Art Museum, 2016.44Photo: © Asian Art Museum.

This scene—a crescent moon shining above a plum tree—was cherished by Joseon dynasty scholars. In Korea, there are many poems praising the beauty of plum blossoms in moonlight. It is said that the exquisite fragrance and beauty of plums can be caught and best appreciated under the moon on a quiet night.

The body of this dish is made of numerous layers of paper, and paper in thick layers can be used for various structural purposes. During the Joseon dynasty, Korean paper (hanji)—known for having the texture and resilience of silk—was in high demand not only domestically but also in China, for making books and paintings. Used paper in particular was repurposed in a variety of areas, such as clothing, craft, and furniture.

A bowl with One Hundred Flowers motif, Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Reign of the Jiaqing emperor (1796-1820)

A bowl with One Hundred Flowers motif, Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Reign of the Jiaqing emperor (1796-1820)

A bowl with One Hundred Flowers motif, Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Reign of the Jiaqing emperor (1796-1820)China, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province.Porcelain with overglaze polychrome decoration, fencaiAsian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60P2095. Photo: © Asian Art Museum. 

This piece revives the "hundred-flower ground" once made by the Jiaqing imperial shop. Commonly used flowers applied on an earlier illustrated piece (cat. no. 665), including peony, lotus, chrysanthemum, magnolia, peach, yellow hibiscus, apricot, morning glory, rose camellia, day lily, pinks, narcissus, wisteria, and more, were massed together in bloom. The enamels were fired to a proper lustrous quality in even layers. The color tonality, dominated by lightly shaded yellow, green, and blue, creates a tender subtlety.