The HKU Museum Society is pleased to visit the exhibition Amber: Baltic Gold with Dr. Isabelle Frank, Director of the Indra and Harry Banga Gallery at City University.
Amber is a beautiful and fascinating organic material that for centuries was believed to be a gemstone. Treated like a rare mineral, amber is simply a fossilized form of resin secreted by different plants. The most famous type comes from the Baltic regions, formed from the sap of extinct conifers 100 million years ago. As it drips down the tree, the sap often traps insects and vertebrates, which are then preserved in the amber, offering rare clues about the evolution of species millions of years ago.
The exhibition highlights key moments in amber’s artistic trajectory over the last 4,000 years and traces amber’s diffusion across Europe from the Baltic regions to ancient Rome, and then down the famous Silk Road to China. The earliest amber objects date from the Neolithic ages, from the Baltic areas; thousands of years later treated amber appears in China circa 1,000 BCE, and by the 8th century can be found in Etruscan tombs in Italy. In China amber continued to be prized over the succeeding centuries, fashioned into precious jewellery and personal accessories. In later medieval and early modern Europe amber was seen as a mysterious and rare material with unknown origins, employed to make private devotional objects and magnificent royal gifts. By the end of the 18th century, however, tastes had changed in both Asia and Europe, and amber’s popularity declined. However, in the Baltic countries it remained a national treasure and important for the decorative arts. Today amber is undergoing an aesthetic revival, once again beginning to attract the attention of contemporary artists.
Dr. Isabelle Frank focuses on curating exhibitions that combine technology and the arts and bridge Western and Asian cultures. An art historian by training with a PhD from Harvard University, she first taught at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts and was then Associate Dean for Academic Affair at The New School, and Dean at Fordham University’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She has published on Italian Renaissance art and decorative art as well as edited many exhibition catalogues for the City University Exhibition Gallery, including Cabinets of curiosities, Art Deco. The France-China Connection, and most recently Leonardo da Vinci: Art & Science, Then & Now.