26 July 2010

Museum of Asiatic Art

Corfu's Museum of Asiatic Art is unique in Greece and one of the most important of its kind in Europe. It contains some eleven thousand exhibits spanning the eleventh century BC to the twentieth century AD from a variety of Asian countries The greater part of the collection, more than ten thousand objects, come from China and Japan, while the rest come from Tibet, Korea, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia.

The museum is housed in the Palace of Saints Michael and George, an imposing three-storied building and a fine example of neoclassical architecture, located at the northern end of the Spianada in Corfu Town. The display rooms occupy the ground and first floors, and are largely under refurbishment. The Palace State rooms, namely the Senate Room on the ground floor, and the Rotunda, Throne Room and Dining Room on the first floor, all of which contain historical heirlooms and furniture from the period of the Ionian Senate, are open to the public. The west wing's first floor, which houses the Japanese collection, is also accessible, as are the temporary exhibition rooms on the ground floor. Soon seven rooms containing Chinese artefacts on the east wing's first floor will also be accessible. The museum's exhibits are displayed not only as mere works of art, but in such a way as to illustrate both the similarities and differences of each country and period's art. The museum also houses specialized conservation laboratories for paper, wood, pottery and metal, offices, storerooms, a photographic archive, a profuse library and a modern lecture hall.

The museum's collections have grown through private donations. The most significant of these, which constituted the museum's core, was the private collection of the diplomat Grigorios Manos, who served as Greek ambassador to France and Austria at the end of the nineteenth century. Manos was an enthusiastic collector of Asian artefacts mostly from China and Japan, but also Korea, Thailand, Cambodia and Tibet. He spent his entire fortune at auctions and amassed an enormous collection of ten thousand five hundred objects, which he subsequently donated to the Greek state. The collection was moved to Corfu in 1924 and the collector himself undertook the classification of the artefacts. The museum was officially founded as the 'Museum of Chinese and Japanese Art' in 1926 and was inaugurated in 1927. Manos was appointed its first curator for life, but died destitute a year later inside the museum. After his death the museum remained closed for a short time and historian Spiros Theotokis was appointed temporary curator.

The museum was later enriched with new collections bequeathed by two Greek diplomats, Iordanis Siniosoglou (1952) and Petros Almanachos (1969). After ambassador N. Chatzivasileiou donated a large part of his collection in 1974, the museum was renamed 'Museum of Asiatic Art' to include the artefacts of other Asian countries. In 1979, Christos Chiotakis, a merchant who spent many years in Holland, donated his collection of sixteenth-eighteen centuries Chinese export porcelain to the Corfu museum on condition that it was presented in a special room.