Amber: Baltic Gold

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The catalogue for Amber: Baltic Gold, accompanies the exhibition held at the Indra and Harry Banga Gallery, City University of Hong Kong (December 15, 2022-April 11, 2023) which focuses on amber’s remarkable aesthetic and scientific significance.

Amber is a beautiful and fascinating organic material that for centuries was believed to be a gemstone. Treated like a rare mineral, amber is simply a fossilized form of resin secreted by different plants. The most famous type comes from the Baltic regions, formed from the sap of extinct conifers 100 million years ago. As it drips down the tree, the sap often traps insects and vertebrates, which are then preserved in the amber, offering rare clues about the evolution of species millions of years ago.

The six essays in the catalogue provide an overview of the diffusion of amber across Europe from the Baltic regions to ancient Rome, and then down the famous Silk Road to China.
The earliest amber objects date from the Neolithic ages, from the Baltic areas; thousands of years later treated amber appears in China circa 1,000 BCE, and by the 8th century is commonly buried in Etruscan tombs in Italy. In China, amber continued to be prized over the succeeding centuries, fashioned into precious jewellery and personal accessories. In later medieval and early modern Europe amber was seen as a mysterious and rare material with unknown origins, employed to make private devotional objects and magnificent royal gifts. By the end of the 18th century, however, tastes had changed in both Asia and Europe, and amber’s popularity declined. However, in the Baltic countries it remained a national treasure and important for the decorative arts. Today is amber is undergoing an aesthetic revival, once again it beginning to attract the attention of contemporary artists.
236 pages
235 x 310 mm

Acknowledgements 鳴謝

The exhibition “Amber: Baltic Gold”, originally slated for spring 2020, has been four years in the planning. Many things have happened since then, and it has been worth the wait for it is truly a great pleasure to be able once again to welcome international loans at the Indra and Harry Banga Gallery. The support of the patrons of City University of Hong Kong and of the Indra and Banga Gallery was indispendable in making this exhibition come to fruition.

The idea for this ambitious exhibition came from Dita Podskocija, Via-Ars founder, and Gilles Bonnevialle, the French cultural councillor to Latvia (2015-2019), who was previously Consul for Culture, at the French Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau, and head of “Le French May” festival (2009-2013). They worked in close collaboration with three colleagues at museums in Latvia and Lithuania: Inese Baranovska at the Latvian National Museum of Art; Anita Meinarte at the National History Museum of Latvia; and Sigita Baguzaite-Talackiene at the Palanga Museum, Lithuania. And the idea took shape of an exhibition showing the influence of amber from its Baltic origins to Europe and Asia.

The extremely generous loans by Betty Lo and Kenneth Chu from the Mengdiexuan Collection in Hong Kong represent almost a third of the total exhibits; their contribution now offers a rare overview of the role and use of amber in China from the Han through the Qing dynasties. The loans from the National History Museum of Latvia and the Latvian National Museum of Art together provide an overview of three thousand years of amber artworks from the Neolithic to the contemporary period. And these are supplemented by the wonderful examples from the Georgs Romulis collection, a famous jeweller whose personal collection includes not only pieces of his own work but also rare examples of amber inclusions, extremely old pieces, and ones with various colours and shapes. Numerous non-Baltic European examples were provided by private collector Philippe Thomas, while two splendid Baroque artworks were generously loaned to us by the Association Trésors de Ferveur and the Fondation Fourvière–Musée d’art religieux. The Liang Yi Museum also
entrusted to us four of their precious objects, incrusted with amber, and we had the pleasure of being able to exhibit contemporary pieces by the French designers and artists: Kam Tin and Aline Putot-Toupry and Bruno Toupry. We would also like to thank Michel Perreault and Clément Zanolli for providing the impressive synchrotron images, as well as the ESRF Heritage Database for Palaeontology, Evolutionary Biology and Archaeology for allowing their reproduction in the exhibition.

Given the challenges of flying, we were unfortunately not able to include as many as countries planned; in this regard, I am grateful to the efforts of Maria Rosa Azzolina, and the Istituto Italo-Cinese, in trying to secure Italian objects, although these were not possible in the end.

The visual experience of the exhibition was created by Frederic Beauclair and the audio-visual and cinematic installations of Nicolas Patrzynski, who together transformed this into a magical event. And together, Gilles Bonnevialle and Dita Podskocija made sure all the parts came together.


本次展覽目標宏大,意念來自Via-Ars創辦人Dita Podskocija以及駐拉脫維亞的法國文化參贊(2015年–2019年)龐智睿(Gilles Bonnevialle)。龐智睿曾經擔任法國駐香港和澳門總領事館文化領事,以及「法國五月」藝術節的總監(2009年–2013年)。他們與三位來自拉脫維亞和立陶宛博物館的同業緊密合作:包括拉脫維亞國家藝術博物館的Inese Baranovska、拉脫維亞國家歷史博物館的Anita Meinarte以及立陶宛帕蘭加博物館的Sigita Baguzaite-Talackiene。這個意念轉化成展覽,呈現琥珀如何影響其起源波羅的海,以至歐洲及亞洲各地。

由香港夢蝶軒盧茵茵和朱偉基慷慨借出的藏品,佔總展品的近三分之一,他們呈獻的藏品提供了珍貴的角度,概述了從漢代到清代,琥珀在中國的角色和用途。至於拉脫維亞國家歷史博物館和拉脫維亞國家藝術博物館所借出的藏品,則讓我們一覽從新石器時代到當代三千年的琥珀藝術品。而著名珠寶商Georgs Romulis的個人珍藏,則補充了以上的展品,當中不但有他的個人作品,更包括有罕見內含物的琥珀、非常古老的琥珀,以及有多種顏色與形狀的琥珀。私人收藏家 Philippe Thomas提供了多件產自波羅的海以外的歐洲琥珀,而Association Trésors de Ferveur 和富維耶基金會–宗教藝術博物館則慷慨借出兩件出色的巴洛克作品。兩依藏博物館將四件鑲有琥珀的珍貴藏品交托給我們,此外,我們亦有幸展出法國設計師和藝術家Kam Tin以及Aline Putot-Toupry和Bruno Toupry的當代作品。 我們感謝Michel Perreault與Clément Zanolli提供令人難忘的同步加速器照片,此外,我們亦感激歐洲同步輻射裝置古生物學、進化生物學和考古學遺產資料庫,容讓我們在展覽中使用其圖像。

由於航空運輸的困難,我們無法包羅原定計劃的所有國家,對此深感遺憾。Maria Rosa Azzolina和Istituto Italo-Cinese在運送意大利文物上不遺餘力,最終雖然功敗垂成,在此我非常感激他們的努力。

本次展覽中的視覺體驗由Frederic Beauclair創作,聲畫及電影裝置則由Nicolas Patrzynski負責,他們合力將本展覽變得魔幻奇妙,而龐智睿與Dita Podskocija就讓所有部分合而為一。

Insect Fossils Preserved in Amber
Clément Zanolli

Introduction to Baltic Amber
Anita Meinarte, Inita Heinola and Zane Buža

Ancient Amber in Europe
Camille Coppinger

Dragon’s Blood & Tiger’s Soul:
The Prevalence of Amber in China
Xu Xiaodong 許曉東

Amber in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Camille Coppinger and Isabelle Frank

Magical Amber
Inese Baranovska

Modern and Contemporary Lithuanian Amber
Artworks at the Palanga Amber Museum
Sigita Bagužaitė-Talačkienė

Amber in the Modern
and Contemporary Period
Gilles Bonnevialle

Dr Isabelle Frank is Consulting Curator at the Indra and Harry Banga Gallery at City University of Hong Kong, where she was the founding Director from 2016 to 2022. The Banga Gallery has collaborated with such international institutions as the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, and many museums in France. An art historian by training (with a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Italian Renaissance art), she first taught at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts and was then associate dean for academic affair at The New School, and dean at Fordham University’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She has published on Italian Renaissance art and decorative art (The Theory of Decorative Art 1750-1940, Yale University Press, 2000) and has edited many catalogues for the Banga Gallery, most recently, Art Machines Past/ Present (2020) and The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism (2021).