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China Rediscovered:The Benaki Museum Collection of Chinese Ceramics
In May 1936 the steamship Sorrento sailed into the port of Piraeus, Greece. Aboard were sixteen crates with 452 items of Chinese pottery, destined to join another 341 already on display at the Benaki Museum in Athens. Over the past nine years the museum s founder, Antonis Benakis, had been in contact with their donor, Greek-origin British businessman George Eumorfopoulos. His Chinese art collection was one of the most extensive the world had ever seen. In bestowing this gift, Eumorfopoulos wanted to introduce Greeks to the art of China through its best-known medium at the time, ceramics. The years after the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911 witnessed an opening up of China and the first archaeological excavations of its ancient cultures. A circle of enthusiasts and scholars, among which Eumorfopoulos was pivotal, grasped the opportunity to evaluate anew long-held preconceptions on Chinese civilisation. Situated in London, a centre of imperialist power and global finance, they acquired, assessed, and interpreted previously-unseen and fascinating objects. In addition, Eumorfopoulos acted as an intermediary between the contemporary art scene and Chinese antiquities, inspiring modern artists and studio potters . China Rediscovered: The Benaki Museum Collection of Chinese Ceramics traces the roles ceramics assumed in this cultural interplay within the context of earlier encounters between China and the rest of the world. A selection of 88 items from the Benaki Museum are perceived as actors within constantly evolving sets , as players in a game of knowledge, taste, and power.


George Manginis is a teaching fellow at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of "Mount Sinai: A History of Travellers and Pilgrims."

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