The bright colors of southern Europe flow over the walls and roofs of centuries-old architecture, blending elements from east and west at the edge of the South China Sea. Various religions – Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism and Mazu beliefs – have coexisted in harmony in Macau, which enjoys a unique landscape bathed in enduring and kaleidoscopic glamour.
The works of art give a glimpse of the vicissitudes of the city, and these scattered puzzle pieces of time thus become eternal. Thanks to an ongoing exhibition at the Palace Museum in Beijing, also known as the Forbidden City, the quintessence of Macau’s architectural heritage can be admired by visitors to the former imperial palace, hopefully sparking a dialogue intercultural.
In Centuries-Old Legacy: Macao’s Landscape and Architecture Paintings from the Macao Museum of Art, which opened in the Zhaigong (Palace of Abstinence) Gallery earlier this month, 82 works present a panorama of the area around the center of Macao, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. It will run until November 6.
More than 20 listed places across the city testify to the assimilation of Chinese and Portuguese cultures. They have a wide range, ranging from Catholic churches and temples to traditional residences and infrastructure from the time under Portuguese governance. The ruins of Saint Paul, a 17th-century Catholic religious complex, for example, have become a symbol of Macau.
According to Noah Ng, curator of the exhibition, the paintings on display are created not only by local artists, but also by domestic and foreign painters. Starting with an 18th-century city map, the legend of Macau is gradually unfolded through a variety of mediums, including oil paintings, watercolours, woodcuts and sketches.
“These historical images of different styles connect the imprints of artists in Macau across different periods,” says Ng. “It creates a travelogue amidst the historic architecture of the gallery.”
From the images, visitors can clearly see how Portuguese communities and Chinese villages formed and developed over centuries.
A-Ma Temple, where people worshiped Mazu, the goddess who protects sailors, is widely considered to be the oldest existing temple in the city. Several 19th century paintings depicting scenes around the temple can remind people of how life centered on this cultural root in ancient times. Meanwhile, a watercolor from 2001, which skillfully creates the impression of changing light, can reveal the rich histories lived in the Mandarin House, a former residence of Zheng Guanying, a well-known scholar of the 19th century.
William Prinsep, a 19th century British merchant, visited Macau in 1838. As a prolific amateur painter, his work may not excel artistically, but he left us with crucial historical references and alive thanks to his drawing pens.
Such an exhibition at the Palace Museum may have additional significance as a means of paying homage to history. As noted by Leong Wai Man, director of the Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macau Special Administrative Region, Macau was once a gateway for Westerners and Western culture through which they could reach the Chinese rulers of the Forbidden City. between the 17th and 18th centuries.
Among them were Jesuits like the German astronomer Johann Adam Schall von Bell, the Portuguese mathematician Thomas Pereira, the Flemish astronomer Ferdinand Verbiest and the Italian painter Giuseppe Castiglione.
“They have made great contributions to China-Western cultural communication,” Leong said.
According to Leong, the close cooperation between the Macao Special Administrative Region and the Palace Museum has been continuous since Macao returned to the motherland in 1999. Cultural relics from the Palace Museum are exhibited in the Special Administrative Region every year, while the is the first time that works from Macau have been exhibited on such a large scale at the Beijing site.
Wang Xudong, director of the Palace Museum, also reveals that the upcoming collaboration between the museum and Macao will not only involve exchange exhibitions, but will also greatly benefit the fields of scholarly study, relic conservation and research. archeology, among others.