The Chinese Rotunda is the majestic setting of the Museum's Chinese collection. Ninety feet in diameter and soaring ninety feet high, the rotunda houses one of the finest collections of monumental Chinese art in the country. The large-scale artifacts on view in the rotunda are a testament to the artistic achievements of the Chinese people, particularly in early Buddhist sculpture, and the continuity of artistic evolution during the early, pre-Song periods (before 1000 CE).
Unlike many collections of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Chinese collection in large part consists of donations and purchases rather than pieces acquired through Museum expeditions. Statuary of various materials, murals, paintings on silk, jades, bronzes, and ceramics are presently on exhibit.
Early Artistic Traditions
Pieces of sculpture from early Chinese tombs and temples are sources of information about early artistic traditions. From the Han period on, pairs of qilin-a mythical hybrid said to be descended from a lion and a dragon-were placed at the beginning of the avenue leading to the grave area of an important royal family. The qilin glorified the deceased while protecting the tomb from evil spirits. The two qilins from the Han Dynasty (2nd to 3rd Century CE) of Henan Province which are in the center of the Chinese gallery are typical of the colossal guardian animals that lined the "spirit way" to the tombs. When complete with tail and legs, each figure would have been approximately nine feet long and seven feet high.
Chinese Buddhism is well represented in the gallery. Buddhism, imported from India probably in the 2nd century CE, reached its peak of popular acceptance in the early 6th century, particularly under the Wei Dynasty (386-535 CE) of Northern China. The Buddhist message of salvation was carried through images, stelae, narrative reliefs, and painting as well as the written word. A huge stone carving of the future Buddha, Maitreya, dedicated by a district chief in 516 CE, is a central figure of the gallery. He is flanked by a pair of 29 foot long murals (circa 1279-1368 CE) of Tejaprabha Buddha, who protects against natural calamities, and Bhaisajyaguru Buddha, who protects from untimely death, nightmares, evil apparitions, vicious animals, robbers and invading states. Nearby, four stone stelae are carved with scenes from two texts, the Lotus Sutra and the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. These texts were important to the spread of Buddhism throughout China.
Bas Relief of Saluzi, China, Zhaoling, Shaanxi province, Tang Period (circa 636-649 AD), Stone, H. 169, Penn Museum Object C395. This horse, named Saluzi or Autumn Dew, is one of six chargers commissioned by the Emperor Taizong for his mausoleum, Zhaoling.