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Khubilai Khan

Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

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Entrance to the exhibition, including a view of Military Official, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). China. Marble; H. 10 ft. 2 1/16 in. (310 cm), W. 28 3/8 in. (72 cm), D. 39 3/8 in. (100 cm). Lent by Beijing Art Museum of Stone Carvings; Gong Kai (Chinese, 1222–after 1304).

«We have just opened a new show, The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty, one of the most complex and ambitious exhibitions ever mounted by the Metropolitan Museum. It is a true tour de force of scholarship and international collaboration, and it aims to cover every aspect of the arts and culture of China of the Yuan dynasty, one of the most dynamic and pivotal periods in Chinese history.»

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One of the exhibition galleries, featuring Roof-ridge Ornament, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), China. Glazed pottery; H. 73 5/8 in. (187 cm), W. 48 13/16 in. (124 cm), D. 18 11/16 in. (47.5 cm); Oversized, Wt. 250 lbs. (113.4 kg) (estimated). Lent by Shanxi Museum

As you enter the exhibition, you will discover the extraordinary world of Khubilai Khan, in a sense as Marco Polo did almost eight centuries ago when he first entered Dadu, the capital of the Great Khan Khubilai. Khubilai was the grandson of Genghis Khan, the ruthless conqueror whose exploits across Asia etched his name in history. Khubilai presided over northern China and Mongolia beginning in 1260 and then conquered the Song dynasty to the south. He and his descendants went on to rule a unified China from 1279 to 1368.

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Noble Horse. Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). China. Handscroll; ink on paper; Image: 11 3/4 x 22 3/8 in. (29.8 x 56.8 cm); Overall with mounting: H. 12 13/16 in. (32.5 cm). Lent by Osaka Municipal Museum of Art.

What you see in our galleries is the extraordinary art of that pivotal and vibrant period of cultural awakening, a time when all of the arts flowered, and when the foundation was laid for what we now regard as traditional Chinese art. The Yuan dynasty was also a period of fertile integration of diverse cultures. As Chinese and skilled craftsmen from all over Central and Western Asia worked together, the exchange of ideas, styles, and art forms that took place resulted in the creation of a new art style that would provide the model for the arts of China in all subsequent periods until the twentieth century.

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Left: Belt Slide, 12th–14th century. Jin (1115–1234)–Yuan (1271–1368) dynasty. China. Jade (nephrite); L.: 2 11/16 in. (6.9 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1991 (1991.483); Center: Bottle, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). China. Porcelain with underglaze copper red (Jingdezhen ware); H. 8 7/16 in. (21.5 cm), Diam. 4 5/16 in. (11 cm), Diam. of rim: 2 9/16 in. (6.5 cm). Lent by Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology; Right: Arhat (Luohan), mid-14th century. Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). Northern China. Wood with traces of pigment; Overall: H. 38 9/16 in. (98 cm), W. 32 5/16 in. (82 cm), D. 16 15/16 in. (43 cm). Lent by Victoria and Albert Museum.

We are proud to present more than two hundred exquisite works of art from this time—drawn principally from institutions in China—to the public. I hope you will come explore these extraordinary treasures.

Related Links
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368)
The Legacy of Genghis Khan

The Met Store
Exhibition Catalogue

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About the Author

Thomas P. Campbell is the director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

About this Blog

Now at the Met offers in-depth articles and multimedia features about the Museum's current exhibitions, events, research, announcements, behind-the-scenes activities, and more.