The Case of Peking Opera in Lithuania: The Collection of Chinese Woodblock Prints
Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis
Keywords:orientalist art, Peking opera, jingju, Chinese woodblock prints, New Year images, nianhua
There has not been much academic research into how the artefacts of orientalist art ended up in Lithuanian museums, libraries and private collections, and how they are represented. This paper raises the question of the Far Eastern art heritage in Lithuania, and addresses the problems of artistic attribution. The paper analyses the case of the Chinese wood- block prints—nianhua (年画), or the so-called “New Year images”—stored in the orientalist art collections of the Lithuanian Art Museum (LAM) and Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis National Museum of Art (MKČNMA). The collections contain seven nianhua prints of this particular format and style. The research has successfully decoded the Chinese inscriptions; specified and determined the titles of the prints; attributed the prints to specific printmaking schools and workshops; identified the theatrical motifs with their corresponding literary sources and Peking opera productions; elaborated on the characters and their various properties; specified the meanings of the allegories, emblems, scenographic makeup, and costumes; and defined the particularities of artistic expression. The paper combined iconographic, historical and comparative methodologies, and carried out a partial research on the artistic style.
Compared to the Chinese graphic art collections in the museums abroad, the works stored in LAM and MKČMA are not as numerous, yet they are arguably just as rare and valuable. The prints are unique in their form, aesthetic value, and artistic technique. All prints are attributed to the famous Yangliuqing school and dated to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. They are all in good condition, and some of them are professionally restored. This first attempt to identify and in- troduce the Chinese woodblock prints from the orientalist art collections of Lithuanian museums is intended to inspire further research, promote the museum collections, and give an impetus to expand them. The research aims to bring a wider knowledge about the theatre-themed prints that reflect the whole complex of Chinese spiritual culture to the contemporary audience.