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Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
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Reviewed by:
Brian Platt
George Mason University
April 2003

This site presents items contained in the Kyoto National Museum. The museum, which has one of the most extensive collections of premodern (pre-1800) Japanese and Asian art in the world, has photographed the items in its collection and arranged them into an English-language catalog, thus making the collection easily accessible to students and teachers worldwide.

There are two primary ways of viewing the collection. The “Masterworks“ link leads the user to a sampling of more than 100 of the most significant items in the collection. Items are divided into eight categories: “archaeology,” “ceramics,” “sculpture,” “paintings,” “calligraphy,” “textiles,” “lacquerware,” and “metalwork.” Once a category is selected, thumbnail photos appear that link to enlarged images. The resolution of the images is not very high, but most of the images can be enlarged without losing too much clarity.

The second method for viewing the collection is to select the “Online Catalogue” link, which enables the user to search the museum’s entire collection of 10,000 images of more than 5,000 items. The collection can be searched by either keyword or category. For most users, the category search mode will be more useful; it provides a drop-down list of 150 precisely defined categories (such as, “Shang/Zhou bronzes” or “Kamakura-era calligraphy”) that enable the user to quickly find items of interest. Once an item is selected, the site displays a thumbnail image along with basic information about the item. The images can be enlarged, but the resolution of the images in the general collection is lower than it is for the images in the “Masterworks” section of the site.

The site will be useful to world history teachers who are looking for online images of Asian art to accompany lectures in premodern Asian history. Teachers might also ask students to spend an hour browsing through the “Masterworks” section of the site on their own and articulate their observations concerning the artwork contained there. The strength of the site is its coverage: there is a tremendous variety of items from Japan, China, and Korea, covering more than two millennia of art history.

There are two major drawbacks to the site, however. First, there is no commentary accompanying the images, so the viewer will have to look elsewhere for discussion of the themes and methods of Asian art and the historical context for its production. Second, the quality of the images is uneven; as a result, many are not suitable for reproduction in PowerPoint presentations or as color transparencies.

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