Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China

November 10, 2017–May 6, 2018

Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China: Harmony of the Ancients from the Henan Museum presents extraordinary musical and archaeological treasures spanning nine thousand years of Chinese music and history.

Presented in partnership with the prestigious Henan Museum, MIM’s exhibition explores the harmony between music, people, heaven, and earth through more than sixty extremely rare instruments and artworks on display for the first time in the United States.

Ancient flutes and drums harken back to the dawn of Chinese civilization, giving us a glimpse of the musical life of an early agrarian society. Grand racks of bronze bells evoke elaborate rituals performed during the formative years of Chinese culture. Lively ceramic figures illustrate the joyful mixing of cultures during the time of the legendary Silk Road. Elegant silk strings entertain gatherings of refined music lovers and inspire poetic contemplation.

In addition to a collection of exquisite musical instruments, the exhibition also features beautiful music-related artworks made of materials such as ceramic and jade. Many of these instruments and artworks were excavated from tombs of nobility. Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Bone flute, 7000 – 5000 BCE (approximately 7,000–9,000 years ago)
    This flute comes from a collection of several flutes that were excavated from the Peiligang burial sites and are collectively the oldest musical instruments in China. Crafted from the bone of a stork, this flute is precisely tuned to a five-note (pentatonic) scale, indicating a highly developed music system.
  • Bianzhong bell chime, Spring and Autumn period, 770 – 476 BCE (approximately 2,500–2,800 years ago)

    This set of twenty-four bells from the court of a duke of Zheng State illustrates the extravagance of noble families and is one of only ten surviving sets made in the latter half of the Zhou dynasty to play a flashy new style of music developed known as zhengsheng. Each bell—among four bo bass bells and twenty niu—was specially crafted to produce two distinct musical tones.

  • Bronze “divine beast” drum stand, Spring and Autumn period, 770 – 476 BCE (approximately 2,500–2,800 years ago)
    Full-bodied depictions of mythical beasts are exceptionally rare, and this drum stand example is one of the finest uncovered to date. Malachite has been inlaid into the bronze body in phoenix and dragon patterns; many of the beast’s features are made up of small dragons and its face is framed by two persimmon flowers.
  • Tricolor-glazed pillow depicting scholarly qin performance, Northern Song dynasty, 960 – 1127 (approximately 890–1,060 years ago)
    The multicolored decoration on this ceramic pillow illustrates two Confucian scholars in a manicured garden; one plays the qin while the other listens. The ability to play and appreciate the qin and its repertoire was described as one of the most important virtues that should be possessed by Confucian scholars, and its performance was meant to be shared privately among friends.
  • Musician and dancer figurines in a pavilion, Han dynasty, 206 BCE – 220 CE (approximately 1,800–2,200 years ago)
    This unusual three-story tower houses an ensemble of musicians and dancers for the nobleman’s entertainment, as well as a complement of guards armed with crossbows. Many Han tombs included ceramic models of the palatial homes that deceased noblemen wished to inhabit in the afterlife.
  • Ceramic drum, Yangshao culture, 5000 – 3000 BCE (approximately 5,000–7,000 years ago)
    Ceramic drums such as this are some of the most characteristic instruments used by the Neolithic Yangshao people. The drum would have had a membrane made from animal skin stretched across the large opening and held tight by the hooks around the rim.

Using interactive technology to explore the exhibition, guests will see, hear, and feel the harmony of the ancients.

Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China: Harmony of the Ancients from the Henan Museum will be open November 10, 2017, to May 6, 2018, at MIM’s Target Gallery.

Special Exhibition Admission
$7 with paid museum admission
$10 special exhibition only

In partnership with

Presenting sponsor

Supported by

Liz Merchant, Hao and Michelle Wang Foundation, Angelo and Micheline Addona, Babette and Richard Burns, Joe and Elizabeth Chan, and Perry and Ann Sells