From relic to relic: a brief history of the skull of Confucius

Pearce, N. (2014) From relic to relic: a brief history of the skull of Confucius. Journal of the History of Collections, 26(2), pp. 207-222. (doi: 10.1093/jhc/fht032)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jhc/fht032

Abstract

This article examines a cup looted during the Second China War of 1860, as it moved through the hands of different collectors and as it changed its identity and physical form. Identified as the ‘Skull of Confucius’ when it was first exhibited at the London International Exhibition of 1862, the cup, made from the calvaria of a human skull, was richly mounted in gold and jewels. Following its exhibition it quickly changed owners, but soon lost its identity with Confucius; eventually stripped of its mounts, it reverted to being merely a fragment of skull. As such it then became a craniological specimen, examined by those interested in its racial and cultural origins. Pieced together from a variety of sources, the skull-cup’s collecting history provides an interesting example of the many ways in which objects can change materially as well as in meaning.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:No
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Pearce, Professor Nick
Authors: Pearce, N.
Subjects:N Fine Arts > ND Painting
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Journal Name:Journal of the History of Collections
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:0954-6650
ISSN (Online):1477-8564

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