the asian art museum – part one

A multi-part picture essay on our recent visit to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

On Saturday, 17 January 2015, we enjoyed the afternoon in this museum located in the civic center area of San Francisco.  This multi floor museum is much larger than I had envisioned it would be.  There were permanent exhibits on China, Japan, Korea, India and various countries of southeast Asia (including the offshore archipelagoes of The Philippines and Indonesia). There was also a large visiting exhibit on Arabia with artifacts on loan from a Saudi museum.

Here we see a simple house from 2nd century AD China (probably is about one foot long and one foot high).


Chinese house 2nd century



Here is another example from the same country and time.


Chinese house 2nd century


From the same time, a dog with harness.


dog with harness - China 3rd or 4th century AD


A camel.  This is from China.  Camels were likely known to the Chinese from the Silk Route.  Far northwestern China is a harsh desert bordering central Asia where camels would feel at home.




An impressive early work of art here.


camel 2


Dear readers, I am not going to stress over how to order these photos.  Just enjoy these images.

As with much art from earlier times, there were religious themes or motifs used.  In these next several images, we are seeing head stones or tomb stones from China in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.  This is after the collapse of the Han Dynasty (circa 220 AD) when China was not united but fragmented with many small states or independent provinces.  A Buddhist influence is clearly visible.


funerary art - China 3rd century AD


It gives one pause to consider that the artisans who made these grave markers so long ago are no more, their bodies long since crumbled to dust, but their art survives today and expresses the hopes and aspirations of the Chinese of their time (for a better after life or more fortuitous rebirth).


funerary art 2


More funerary art speaking to us across the many centuries.


funerary art


Taking these pictures just a few feet away from these old stones with their intricate art work was a moving experience for me.  Most of these (small) monoliths were not behind glass.  A few feet but many centuries separated us from the artisans and the deceased whose graves these stones marked.


funerary art - China 3rd to 4th century AD


Man has always been preoccupied with thoughts of his mortality and what may lie beyond the veil of bodily death.  To reach enlightenment, that is the way to end the cycle of birth – suffering – death – rebirth.  To attain Buddhahood and final release is the goal for some.  (A co-worker of mine many years ago remarked that the Egyptians (with their mummies and pyramids and practice of placing so many objects in the funeral crypts) had “an obsession with death”.)


funerary art 6


More funerary art.  Note the prominent halos for the 2 seated figures.


funerary art 3


In college, I took a few art history courses as electives in my last semester. The early Christians also made elaborate funerary art with sculpted scenes on the stone sarcophagi for their dead in the early centuries of the Christian era – contemporary with these last several works from China.


funerary art 7


Remaining in this same room at the museum, we practically had this large room to ourselves at the time, we see an early Chinese sculpture of Buddha. Smiling? – Perhaps.


Buddha smiling, China 3rd or 4th century AD


More art work in stone.


Buddha in stone from China 3rd or 4th century AD


A Buddha seated on a large lotus flower.  I think this may be from the Japanese section.


Buddha sitting on lotus


A colorful Buddha.


Buddha colorful


A Buddha in gold leaf?  Not sure of the materials used here.




A mythological scene seen in this next photo.


carved mythological scene


A carving of a goddess?


carving of goddess


This next exhibit dominated the first floor of the museum occupying five rooms.  Coincidentally, this was the last weekend for this exhibit before it would be carefully packed and then shipped either to the next museum on its tour, or back to the Saudi museum in Arabia (which owns these artifacts). This sign or poster is at the entrance to the exhibit.


Roads of Arabia exhibit


Pictures of this exhibit were not permitted.  However, I can say that there were Islamic grave markers with Arabic writing from the 8th to 10th centuries and other Islamic artifacts.  What is interesting to note is that during the pre-Islamic period, before about 600 AD, the artifacts from the Arabian peninsula are quite similar to artifacts from Egypt during the same period.

Visitors were allowed to photograph this statue from pre-Islamic Arabia.  It was outside of the main exhibit rooms.


statue from Arabia


Lucy poses in front of this statue.


statue from Arabia 3


A final comment on the exhibit on Arabia:  Many people were spending time in these rooms on the first floor.  In fact, this exhibit was quite crowded.  Yet, we did not see many of these same visitors when we visited the upper floors where exhibits from other parts of Asia were located.  It seems that many guests that day were only focused on Arabia.

We have more pictures for the next installments of this essay.

copyright 2015 –


    1. We are surprised to receive a comment from a person associated with the museum. Yes, we did enjoy our visit and encourage any who visit San Francisco to go and see this museum and what it has to offer. A great experience and a very enjoyable afternoon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s