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Rare Chinese Imperial Screen on Display at Gordon Galleries

"100 Birds Paying Homage to the Royal Phoenix and Other Birds of Noble Rank," a significant historical artifact dating from late 19th century China, has been donated to Old Dominion University in support of its Asian studies program and China Center. The nine-panel pedestal screen will be on public display at the Baron and Ellin Gordon Galleries from May 22 - June 6, with an opening reception at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 22.

Believed to have been on display in the summer palace of the Dowager Empress Cixi in Beijing, the panel depicts a scene rich in cultural connotations in ancient China. The phoenix, used to represent emperors and later to symbolize empresses when a dragon was used to symbolize the emperor, is a symbol of the imperial family. The screen frame is made of "hongmu" timber, also known as rosewood, and stands more than 10 feet high.

The lacquer screen panels feature ivory appliqués of flying birds, depicting the theme of the artifact. Each panel has 14 to 16 birds, including a single or pair of royal birds at the base, while the central panel features a phoenix standing on a rocky islet with narcissus, bamboo and linghzi mushroom, symbols of good fortune and longevity. Each bird is unique and depicted in animated and lifelike displays. In addition to the birds, the base and crest crown are carved with cloud patterns and inlaid with white and green jade designs intended to send blessings of happiness and long life.

Chinese platform screens were usually arranged in the main hall of a palace, where they served as a stately backdrop for a group of furnishings, often with the throne chair at the front center. The screen is a gift from Richard and Janet Goldbach's private collection of art and historical artifacts. Goldbach, of Suffolk, Va., is the president and CEO of Metro Machine Corp in Norfolk.

Goldbach, who purchased the screen for its aesthetic value, elected to donate the screen to ODU when he began researching the piece and learned more about its historical significance.

"I realized it was an important artifact and felt it was inappropriate to keep it in a private home," Goldbach said. As he learned more about ODU's plans to establish a China Center, Goldbach felt compelled to support the university's efforts and to help strengthen the Asian studies program.

"There is a long history of why the Chinese are the way they are," Goldbach said. His research and business experience convinced him that to enhance relations between China and the U.S., it would be important for both cultures to learn more about and better understand each other, which in turn would provide opportunities beneficial to both.

Initially the "100 Birds Paying Homage to the Royal Phoenix and Other Birds of Noble Rank" screen will be on public display in the Baron and Ellin Gordon Galleries along with two other pieces on loan from the Goldbachs' collection, an unsigned "Painting on Glass" and a sterling silver filigreed cloisonné and champlevé enamel "Dragon Boat."

Research on the unsigned "Painting on Glass" indicates it probably dates from circa 1800 and may depict an event of importance in Chinese imperial history. The sterling silver filigreed cloisonné and champlevé enamel "Dragon Boat" rests on a 22.5-inch-long painted wave form stand and is cast with cloisonné scales, which graduate in enamel color. The dragon boat is most likely based on those that participated in the annual dragon boat festivals held of the fifth day of the fifth moon, during which pairs of long dragon boats race up and down the Yellow River to the sound of horns and other loud instruments.

The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries are located in the University Village, 4509 Monarch Way. Admission is free. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Metered street parking is available in front of the galleries or in Garage D, 2nd level, on 45th Street.

For more information about the "100 Birds Paying Homage to the Royal Phoenix and Other Birds of Noble Rank" screen, call 757-683-3114. For more information about the Gordon Galleries, call 757-683-6271 or visit http://al.odu.edu/art/gallery/.

This article was posted on: May 21, 2010

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