Harmony and Balance at Aster Court By: Sofia allinson

Concise Descriptions

The garden

As I walked into Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was amazed to see a Chinese garden and study from the time of the Ming Dynesty. The garden is calm, quiet, and peaceful. The garden includes rocks that look like sculptures, lively plants, beautiful sounding water, natural sun light and perfect visual space which makes it all work together in a type of balance and harmony. Everything in the garden works together to create a harmonious, quiet, easygoing, and relaxing space for reflection and enjoyment.

The study room

When I walked into the study room I immidietaly noticed that everything was symmetrical. On each side there were two chairs, a painting, and a wardrobe. There was also a table directly in the center and three tables with windows right above each with nature inside in the room. Each table has an object and they are each very important to daiosm. One table has flowers which symbolizes beauty and vegetation. Another table has a bull which symbolizes strength and the last table has a harp which makes beautiful sounding music for people to enjoy. The study is overlooking the garden and the harmony found in the garden is transferred to the study.


Rocks and water in garden

One of the most important and symbolic aspect of the garden were the rocks. They were symbolic even in the way they were made. Monoliths, were at the end of the garden, and are called peaks (feng). They are piled up like the one in the corner of the garden and are called artificial mountains (jiashan). The rocks are eroded limestone boulders from Lake Tai, near Suzhou. The word for landscape is shanshui and it literally means mountain and water. In gardens, rocks represent rough, big, and beautiful mountains. The water (pool or stream) symbolizes the ability to restore health, strength, or in general people's well being. Water has a calming sound and symbolizes harmony through wu wei. Wu wei literally means “no action.” It is something that does not involve struggle or excessive effort. It is a mental state where you are just going on with your life effortlessly. Wu wei is about letting life take its own path or natural course. When you sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful nature that the garden provides you are experiencing wu wei.

The water and rock together symbolize the important term yin and yang. Yin and yang are patterns or things that depend on each other and work best together as opposites. They are opposites that work together to create harmony and become unified. The water is the yin and the rocks are the yang. The water is dark, soft, wet , cool, empty, and not rigid. The rocks are bright, solid, hard, dry, hot, and rigid. Water moves and splashes, and the rocks stay in one place. Together they represent movement with stability and flexibility with strength.

The garden has walls and open spaces, both on the ground in the garden and upward to the sky, to create the illusion of space opening up to more space. The skylight roof let's in the natural sun light which gives the impression the garden is outside. In addition, the windows of the garden have different geometric patterns, representing varitety in nature. The garden is simple, yet also complex at the same time. The rocks, water, and space all work together to create harmony and a peaceful place for people to enjoy and think in quiet.

In the study room, four kinds of wood were used. The lattice and railings of the ming room façade are of ginkgo and campohot and the beams are of fur. Nan wood are a rare species of broadleaf evergreen and it was used for the pillars. Insects can't penetrate into nan wood and it is known for its sturdiness and pretty brown, honey color. The wardrobe is made out of wood. The lower compartments were used for clothing and bedding and the upper was for hats. The closets we know of now did not exist in China. The armchairs were made with purple sandalwood and calligraphy by Zhu Yumming (1461- 1527) and Wen Zhengming (1470-1559). The artists tried to make them look dimensional.

Harp on the table
Flowers on the table
Bull on the table

The whole room is completely symmetrical and each object on the three tables have significant value to Confucianism. The flowers represent beauty and vegetation. The bull symbolizes strength and the harp plays beautiful music and symbolizes harmony through li and ren. Li is about etiquette, customs, manners, ceremony, courtesy, civility, and propriety. You have to follow the harmonius way of heaven and listen rather than speak. If you follow li, you can become a better person. Ren is about human heartedness. Li and ren together create an orderly society that harmonizes heaven and humanity. Confucius believed that if human interactions are harmonious that society will become harmonious too. The study room presents this harmony through its symmetry and the purpose of the study room, which overlooks the garden and is an extension of the quiet contemplation encouraged by the garden.

Why should a future 8th grader choose this experience?

A future 8th grader should choose this experience because the garden and study are beautiful, balanced and harmonious and help teach you about the central themes of Daoism and Confucianism. Themes such as wu wei, yin and yang, and li and ren are all reflected in the garden and study. These themes come together with the elements of the garden and study to create harmony and balance, and live up to the two plaques. The plaque over the moon gate outside the Astor Court says "In Search of Quietude" (tanyou), and the plaque over the doorway across the courtyard says "Elegant Repose" (Yashi).


Created with images by angelac72 - "sunrise hope morning"

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