The born again National Palace Museum (NPM) celebrates today the end of three years of renovations with a first-class exhibition of artifacts loaned by the British Museum, some historical gems from its own vaults and a lively series of outdoor cultural events.
Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years is a show comprising 271 works with an estimated value of NT$5 billion, stretching back from the "dawn of human civilization" in Africa to the "unraveling cultures of the Americas." Must-see items include the "Unlucky Mummy," one of the world's earliest instruments, busts from Greece and Rome, a reliquary, Mayan statues and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.
Putting together Chinese history from the National Palace Museum (NPM) with artifacts from other equally ancient civilizations collected by the British Museum provides a unique chance to view first-hand the fruits of 5,000 years of civilization.
"This is the world's heritage on one site. There's always a risk with touring exhibitions of this kind that we are not seeing the original items or second- or third-rate examples from a collection. This is the genuine stuff and though I think, personally, it is a bit of risk for ancient pieces like this to go on display so close to the general public, it is a wonderful opportunity to look around here and then go around the Palace Museum to compare articles from China from a given period," said the director of the British Trade and Cultural Office Michael Reilly.
"We often think about what it is about our country that makes us unique but actually, by looking around at these artifacts on the same site, you realize that it may have been cross-fertilization that led to many advances."
What: Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years
Where: National Palace Museum at 221 Zhishan Rd Sec 2, Shihlin, Taipei (台北市士林區至善路二段221號)
When: From today until May 27
Phone: (02) 2881-2021
Admission: Adults NT$250, students NT$200
On the Net: www.npm.gov.tw
For example, Reilly said, the concurrent Sung Dynasty Rare Books exhibition has records from the imperial Chinese court showing officials traveled widely to disperse and gather information that led to significant cultural development.
Deputy director of the British Museum, Andrew Burnett, emphasized that seeing a copy or looking at pictures on the Internet was "no substitute for viewing the real object, such as the tools used by the first humans or the great drawings by Da Vinci."
"These achievements of man show that Africa is so much more than just a place of famine, that Islam has produced fantastic instruments of significance and that Iraq was one of the earliest sources of civilization and not just the place we know now," Burnett said, amplifying his theme of history being able to teach us about the present and increase understanding between cultures.
NPM has conveniently organized 30-, 60- and 120-minute visiting plans of the exhibition to cover the best-known artifacts. It has also split the Treasures of the World's Cultures into 13 sections that are given imaginative titles such as "glimpses of morning glory," "in pursuit of immortality" (ancient Egypt), "land of the gods" (Greece and Rome) or "tranquil and profound" (Southeast Asia).
Starting with stone chopping tools from around 2.5 million years ago we are offered a package tour-like view of history. A beautifully restored lyre, which is estimated to be 4,500 years old, is one of two retrieved from the grave of Queen Puabi. It was found with a sacrificial victim lying against it, the bones of her hand placed against where the strings would have been.