Favorite

Museum’s Gift Reveals Fighting-Cricket History 

Two of the nephrite carvings are among the oldest works of art in the East Asian collection and among the oldest in the museum, says Shawn Eichman, the museum’s E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter curator of East Asian art. What’s unique about the Maxwell gift is that it contains paraphernalia used in the raising of pet crickets.

As early as the Tang dynasty (618 to 906), crickets were kept as pets in China. “It’s a remarkable phenomenon,” Eichman says. “It’s the only world culture with a long tradition of having insects for pets,” he says. Imperial concubines would capture the insects and keep them in tiny gold cages to better admire their chirping and singing. Soon after, say, in the Song dynasty, crickets were elevated to an even nobler status: They were bred to fight. In both cases, only male crickets were collected. Historically, female crickets would neither sing nor fight.

Cricket fighting was a highly competitive and courtly craze in imperial China. And while it remains popular in some pockets of the country, it doesn’t compare to the days when dignitaries scouted the finest specimens as gifts to the imperial court. These crickets were given military titles like “general” and could cost as much as a fine horse. Fortunes were waged during cricket fights. And ancient Chinese stories — not unlike Grimm’s fairy tales — tell of the rise and fall of families upon the success or demise of a single cricket.

In keeping with their love and appreciation for early Chinese art, the Maxwells began collecting cricket implements years ago, Eichman says. Their gift to the museum includes a variety of cricket cages — some with bars carved from ivory and nephrite. One is made from a carved nut. It was specifically designed for singing crickets. Other paraphernalia include fragile cricket nets, porcelain or ivory feeders and beds, and two plaques indicating the names of victorious fighting crickets.

Only two other museums in the country have cricket-fighting art, Eichman notes. So for the museum to be included among them is a great, if not quirky, feat. Eichman says it’s the educational value of introducing the public to a new and rare art form that makes the collection invaluable. And, he says, thanks to the Maxwells the museum soon will have an exhibit “entirely based on cricket fighting.”

— Brandon Walters

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Connect with Style Weekly

Most Popular Stories

  • Palms on the Potomac

    Palms on the Potomac

    Our day trip series heads to charming Colonial Beach, a relaxed small town featuring the second-longest beach in Virginia.
    • Sep 7, 2021
  • Co-working Co-conspirators

    Co-working Co-conspirators

    Richmond’s first Black- and queer-owned co-working space is open for business.
    • Aug 31, 2021
  • Deciding Factors

    Deciding Factors

    A close governor’s race between two wealthy Virginia businessmen could set the tone for broader national elections, but this time it’s not business as usual.
    • Aug 24, 2021
  • How to Access Your Vax Record Online (from VDH)

    How to Access Your Vax Record Online (from VDH)

    Be careful and avoid scams online.
    • Aug 30, 2021
  • More »

Copyright © 2021 Style Weekly
Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
All rights reserved
Powered by Foundation