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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Gods in My Home - Celebrating Chinese New Year at the Royal Ontario Museum

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Happy belated Chinese New Year! February 5, 2019 marks the beginning of the year of the pig - the twelfth and final animal in the Chinese Zodiac. Chinese families celebrated the New Year with large family gatherings, grand feasts, ancestor worship, and temple visits.

In the Chinese Art world, many international museums will be featuring new exhibitions to celebrate this event. In particular, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is currently showcasing their original exhibition 'Gods in My Home: Chinese New Year with Ancestor Portraits and Deity Prints' from January 26 to September 29, 2019.

This was a wonderful exhibition and since its opening, I've already visited it a couple of times.

'Gods in My Home' is one of the rare instances where the ROM has put together a Chinese Art themed exhibition - the last ones were 'The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army' (2011) and 'The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China's Emperors' (2013).

This exhibition focuses on the link between families during Chinese New Year and the importance of the art used to celebrate the event. Chinese families will bring out paintings and prints to decorate their homes during the New Year. Paintings will often depict ancestors and deities, while prints can portray celebratory scenes and house deities.

The paintings of ancestors and deities are the focus of worship during the Chinese New Year. In return for the devotion, it was expected that these supernatural forces would look over family members for the remainder of the year. Typical aid can involve health, fortune, business, education and love.

Many of the objects used in this exhibition are provincial folk art, but there are also objects used by nobles and members of the imperial households. In addition to paintings and prints, the other mediums used in this show include furniture, textiles, porcelain and musical instruments. The latter categories are often decorated with auspicious symbols that add a further layer to the New Year celebrations.

Here are some of my highlights from 'Gods in My Home':

Figure 1. A space with ancestor portraits and household altar furniture.

Figure 2. Ancestor portrait of Yang Moulin (楊茂林), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Figure 3. A huanghuali 黃花梨 folding chair, Ming Dynasty, 17th Century.

Figure 4. Ancestor portrait of an elderly woman, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Figure 5. Painted wood shrine for spirit tablets, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Figure 6. Famille rose bottle vase with auspicious boys, Qing Dynasty, Jiaqing mark and period (1795-1820).

Figure 7. Famille verte dish with 'longevity' deer and 'good fortune' bat, Qing Dynasty, Yongzheng mark and period (1723-1735).

Figure 8. Woodblock rubbing of the Great Emperor Ziwei, Qing Dynasty, 19th Century.

Figure 9. Coloured woodblock print door pictures with military gods, early 20th Century.

Figure 10. Coloured woodblock print door pictures with auspicious children playing instruments, early 20th Century.

Figure 11. Coloured woodblock print with the lantern festival and lion dance, 19th/20th Century.

Figure 12. Coloured woodblock print with a family altar shrine, 19th/20th Century.

Figure 13. Coloured woodblock print 'Lady Mouse's Wedding', 19th/20th Century.

Hope you enjoyed the blog and photos about the 'Gods in My Home: Chinese New Year with Ancestor Portraits and Deity Prints'! Please feel free to send me any feedback about this blog through my email.

In the meantime, I am currently in Boston for a couple of days before I embark on my annual visit to New York Asia Week. I will be in New York from March 15-18 to view the auction previews at Bonhams, Christie's and Sotheby's and also the new museum exhibitions at the Rubin Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I will be regularly posting New York updates and highlights on my my Instagram feed @anthonywuart, and hopefully I'll have a blog of my trip ready by the end of the month.

Finally, my next Chinese Art auction report for Orientations Magazine will be published in their March/April edition. You can order it directly from their website or find a copy at most international museums with Asian Art collections. I'll write about it in the coming months.

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