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Art & Design

Asian Art Galleries

  • Devotional and Funerary Objects from Asia

    This gallery, which leads to the grand Dainichi Nyorai Buddha, presents devotional art spanning 4,000 years. Together, these objects hint at the complex network of religious practices, as well as political histories, across Asian cultures.

    The majority of the sculpture in this room is drawn from Hindu and Buddhist architecture. Many of these sculptures once adorned the exteriors and interiors of temples or were carried in public processions. Complementing these objects is a selection of Chinese mortuary works that served in burial rituals associated with Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian beliefs.

    Most of these works are fragments of larger sculptural arrangements, separated from their original religious contexts in the last two centuries and acquired by European and American art collectors. Fashioned by skilled artists using materials meant to last, they attest to the vibrancy of artistic expression in the service of religious devotion.

    In 1919, Lucy Truman Aldrich (1869–1955)—the eldest daughter of Rhode Island senator Nelson Aldrich and the sister of philanthropist Abby Aldrich Rockefeller—embarked on a voyage to Japan, Korea, and China. This journey activated a lifelong appreciation for the finest examples of textile artisanry and sparked a brilliant collecting career spanning three decades. Aldrich made five more collecting trips during the 1920s, with repeat visits to Japan, Korea, and China and forays to India, Indonesia, and Egypt, amassing many hundreds of spectacular textiles from these regions.

    Since Aldrich’s return from her initial voyage, the textiles she collected have found a place of honor within the RISD Museum’s galleries. In 1951 she dedicated a gallery for their display in memory of her sister. Another of Aldrich’s collections, that of early European porcelain, is on display on the Museum’s 3rd floor in a gallery devoted to this material.

    Between 1934 and 1955, Aldrich gave more than 700 garments and textiles to the RISD Museum, forming the nucleus of the Museum’s renowned Asian textile collections. Two of the most significant groupings of Nō theater robes and Buddhist monks’ mantles outside of Japan are included in these holdings, as are exemplars of Chinese, Indian, Thai, Indonesian, Persian, and Ottoman court and religious textile arts. The textiles in this gallery span Aldrich’s collecting career, from her days as a novice to her choices as a seasoned expert, affording the study of a diverse array of Asian textile traditions and illuminating the skill and effort of the artisans who fashioned these extraordinary objects.

    Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Japanese Print Collection

    A lifelong supporter of the arts, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874–1948), a daughter of Rhode Island senator Nelson W. Aldrich and the wife of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., assembled a remarkable collection of Japanese woodblock prints. While Mrs. Rockefeller’s interest in art was not limited to works from Japan, one of her early passions was for bird-and-flower prints, or kachōga. Her collection also included surimono, or “printed things,” which were published privately and distributed among small groups, especially as New Year greetings. Surimono are known for extravagant techniques such as embossing and an abundant use of metallic pigments. In all, Mrs. Rockefeller donated more than 700 Japanese prints to the RISD Museum.

    The works in this gallery, drawn from a 1934 exhibition commemorating Mrs. Rockfeller’s gift, were made by specialists working together in a collaborative process. After the artist drew the design, carvers cut the outline, or key block, in cherrywood, and then made separate blocks for each color in the print. Printers inked the blocks and printed them in succession, carefully aligning the registration. Mass produced in Edo, or Tokyo, in the 18th and 19th centuries, woodblock prints were acquired by a rising middle class and purchased as souvenirs by travelers.

    In 1952, architect Philip Johnson was commissioned by Mrs. Rockefeller’s sons, Nelson and David, and her sister, Lucy Truman Aldrich, to design a room for the continuous exhibition of her Japanese prints at the RISD Museum. Originally located on the east side of this floor, the room has been recreated here to Johnson’s specifications.

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