The National Museum of Oriental Art, MAO, is located in the historic 18th-century seat of Palazzo Mazzonis. The museum’s heritage encompasses some 1500 works, in part from the previous collections amassed by various city institutions, in part acquired in the past few years.
The entrance lobby, where a large glazed space was built, retains the nineteenth-century cobblestone that houses the Japanese zen gardens with sand and moss. This is the starting point for visiting the five areas, featuring different chromatic and stylistic choices, with extensive use of teak, steel, glass and an evocative museum graphic of the places of origin.
The Museum’s exhibition layout is divided into five cultural areas: South Asia, China, Japan, the Himalayan Region and Islamic countries. This layout corresponds naturally with the building’s physical structure which is divided into the same number of interlinked but structurally separate exhibition spaces used to house the various sections.
The first floor houses the first part of the Japanese Gallery, where you can admire large painted screens and a series of lacquered and golden wood sculptures. On the second floor the gallery continues with the show of arms and armor, paintings, fabrics and precious prints.
The Japanese collection reveals the uniqueness of the combination of tradition, craftsmanship and knowledgeable materials. In this section there are wooden statues (from the 12th to the 17th century), screenings from the 17th to the 19th century, fabrics, paintings and woodcuts as well as lacquered objects, weapons and armor. The Japanese gallery is subject to periodic rotations of works involving mainly textiles, pictorial works and prints.
The rooms dedicated to Japan contain wooden statues inspired by the Buddhist tradition (12th to 17th century), beautiful screens from the early 17th century, paintings and polychrome woodcuts, as well as an extensive collection of fine lacquered works.
One of the most important works of the collection, exhibited for short periods, is one of the few copies left in the good state of the famous woodcut of the Great Wave of Kanagawa by the 19th-century artist Katsushika Hokusai.
This collection includes findings from the artistic production of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s northwestern Islamic inspiration from the 2nd century BC. To the fifth century.
The gallery dedicated to South Asia contains the collections from Gandhara (a region situated between Afghanistan and Pakistan), India and south-east Asia. In addition to the friezes from the great stupa of Butkara, the Gandhara section also includes a series of statues in schist, stucco and terracotta.
The rooms dedicated to Indian art contain reliefs and statues ranging from the 2nd century BC to 14th century AC. Works of art from Thailand, Burma and Cambodia are displayed in the rooms on south-east Asia, as well as outstanding examples of Khmer statuary.
In this rich collection there are many sculptures, brass, crockery and cotton paintings from the Kashmir and Eastern Pakistan area dating from the 2nd century BC. And the nineteenth century.
A collection that reflects the marked Indian influences of artistic production in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, while highlighting iconographic features typical of these countries.
In the Chinese collection one can see how much the millennial culture of China and its immense extension have generated a great variety of artistic representations. However, the cohesion of its social and political structure has favored the evolution of a homogeneous and strongly characterizing style. The collection includes Neolithic vessels, specimens of bronze rituals and lacquer from the pre-imperial period to the Han and Tang dynasties.
The Chinese gallery now houses works of art from ancient China, dating from 3000 BC to c.900 BC, with Neolithic ceramics, sacred bronzes, and lacquered and terracotta ware that include over two hundred examples of burial art works from the Han and Tang periods.
On the third floor is the Himalayan Gallery which houses precious and rare specimens of Tibetan thang-ka and bronze sculptures; Noteworthy is the part devoted to displaying manuscripts from precious wooden covers.
The Himalayan galleries house major collections of Tibetan Buddhist art, with wooden and metal statues, ritual instruments, tempera paintings dating from the 12th to 18th century, and a series of carved and painted wooden covers for sacred texts.
In this fascinating collection you can grasp the mystical side of Buddhism, which involves the art of its countries (Bhutan, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet) in all its forms: from sculpture to painting, from writing to architecture. In this section there are wooden and metal sculptures, ritual instruments, thangka paintings and some wooden coverings of sacred, carved and painted textures.
The fourth floor concludes the course with the strictly green room dedicated to Islamic art. The ambience, featured in the ceiling of the historic building, looks like a large corridor flanked by the exhibition furniture that features Ottoman velvet, pottery, bronze and rare Persian manuscripts and calligraphic copies of the Koran.
The gallery of Islamic art houses an extensive collection of ceramics and glazed tiles illustrating the development of ceramic production from the 9th to the 17th century. Other items on display include exceptional collections of bronzes and manuscripts, and a valuable collection of Ottoman velvets.
The Islamic collection is characterized by manuscripts and furnishings from Turkey, Persia and former Soviet republics of Central Asia, where the importance of calligraphy is highlighted.
As a result of the need to benefit from a new instrument for the knowledge of distant worlds, the MAO welcomes the oriental collections previously preserved in the Civic Museum of Ancient Art but also contributes greatly to the finds from the collections of the Piedmont Region, the Compagnia di Saint Paul and the Agnelli Foundation. It is the goal of the museum to preserve and make known to the public emblematic works of Oriental art production and to become privileged access to scholars of Asian culture, also with the help of specific initiatives. The interior design, carved by architect Andrea Bruno, provides for a rotating display of over 1,500 works, some of them of great importance, in five sections. The criteria that suggested the design choices made it possible to create a enjoyable museum path, despite the typical layout of an ancient building and therefore not always favorable.
Being located in the historic center of the city, it is advisable to consult the site of the Turin City Council to inquire about the restrictions on access to vehicles.
Underground parking for a fee: Piazza Emanuele Filiberto, Santo Stefano, Piazza Castello. Alternatively, bus 52, Star 2 and Citysightseeing buses can be used; The museum is close to other sites of interest, such as Palazzo Madama and Palazzo Reale, and can be easily reached on foot from Piazza Castello.