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.
Divided into six sections, the exhibition highlights key moments in amber’s artistic trajectory over the last 3,000 years. The first introduces its origins and its significance for scientific research; the second presents ancient amber objects from the Baltic regions; the third focuses on amber art during the Liao dynasty and in medieval Europe; the fourth traces amber’s popularity in the Ming and Qing dynasties, in contrast to its decreasing use in 19th-century Europe; the fifth explores amber’s role in 20th-century Latvia; and the last looks at amber in contemporary artworks. The exhibition concludes with a few examples of fake or composite amber masquerading as original.
Dr Isabelle Frank is currently Consulting Curator at the Indra and Harry Banga Gallery at City University of Hong Kong, where she was previously the Founding Director from 2016 to 2022. She is an art historian by training, with a PhD from Harvard University in Italian Renaissance Art. As Director and now Curator, she has mounted exhibitions combining art and technology which bridge Western and Asian cultures. She has collaborated with such international institutions as the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, and many museums in France.
She previously taught at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, was Associate Dean at The New School and Dean at Fordham University. She has published on Italian Renaissance art and decorative art, including The Theory of Decorative Art 1750-1940, and has edited many catalogues for the Banga Gallery, including most recently, Art Machines Past/ Present and The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism.
The opinions expressed in this talk are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal Geographical Society - Hong Kong.