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Chinese Bird Banquet

High-resolution ImagesReception
Curated by Caitlin Spencer, 2019 Getty Marrow Undergraduate Intern

On View: August 10, 2019 – June 30, 2020
Reception: August 10, 6 – 9 PM

A curated selection of the 900+ Chinese bird feeders in the Julianne and David Armstrong collection. Produced in the late 1800’s through the early 1970’s, these works exhibit a remarkable range of ceramic styles, materials, and techniques. This unique collection comprehensively represents the important aspects of traditional Chinese ceramics – in miniature form.

In Chinese culture, birds are imbued with a variety of symbolic meanings. For example, ducks mate for life and are symbolic of marital fidelity, swallows signify good luck for a household as master nest builders, and cranes are fabled to live more than 600 years and symbolize longevity or wisdom.

During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 CE), inherited wealth passed from generation to generation meant the noble class did not need to work. This privileged class adopted bird keeping as a way to pass time. Individuals brought their birds with them to tea houses, and the intricacies of feeding and raising birds were common topics of conversations. Many of these bird owners had beautifully handcrafted bamboo cages with highly decorated bird feeders to reflecting their wealth and societal position.

In 1911, with the onset of the Chinese revolution, many noble families were stripped of their titles and forced into common labor. Despite the decline of the noble class, the rest of the population developed a strong interest in bird keeping. Today, antique bird feeders are collected by both ceramic and bird enthusiasts around the world.