An array of exquisite statues and artifacts never seen before outside China went on show in Florence on Friday for an exhibition featuring China's artistic flourishing in the first millennium.
More than 200 works are on display in Florence, highlighting the extravagance, luxury and sophistication of the imperial Chinese courts during a period in Europe that saw the fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages.
The exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi charts a course from the tradition-steeped works of the middle years of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) through China's increasingly cosmopolitan culture up to the refined elegance of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).
"The nine centuries represented in the show are a period of strong renewal in Chinese civilization," said curator Sabina Rastelli.
"The great attraction for all things foreign put China at the center of commercial and cultural exchanges with input from different religions and races that made this period unique," she added.
An array of gold and silver works and terracotta sculptures found in graves during the period of the Tang Dynasty follow, many of which are marked by the period's receptiveness to foreign influences.
At the height of the dynasty in the eighth century, the capital Chang'an in central Shaanxi province was the world's largest city and a buzzing trade center with an estimated population of two million.
Among the most precious artifacts on display is a set of five painted earthenware tomb figures from 730 AD, each of which has a different foreign face.
The show ends with recently discovered frescoes and paintings including a mural depicting a fiery central Asian horse found in the tomb of Wei, one of the wives of the Emperor Taizong (599-649 AD).
The exhibition, "China, at The Court Of The Emperors, Never-Before-Seen Masterpieces From Han Tradition To Tang Elegance(25-907 AD)," runs until June 8.
(Xinhua News Agency March 8, 2008)