The Wu Family Reception Hall was originally part of a Su-chou style courtyard house located in the East Tung-t'ing Hills district of Lake Tai in the town of Tung-shan. Built in the early 17th century, the room served as the main ceremonial hall of a traditional upper-class home.
The main hall (ting-tang) was the nucleus of a traditional Chinese family home. This formal, ceremonial space symbolized the unity and continuity of a Confucian family. It was where elder males carried out religious rituals, honored their ancestors, received guests and entertained friends. Such rooms also served for various family activities including seasonal festivals, weddings and coming-of-age ceremonies. As the most important room in the house, the main hall expresses the social status and economic power of the family as well as its degree of cultural refinement and artistic tastes. Although certain conventions governed the placement of furniture within main halls, the style of furniture, quality of calligraphy, paintings and objects selected for use and display were clear indications of a family's budget, taste and intellectual refinement.
The basic form of a courtyard house is a walled-in rectangle comprised of many structures and courtyards organized in succession, facing south along a central axis. In Su-chou, the standard large home consisted of a gated entrance building, a courtyard and the main, free-standing reception hall followed by a secondary courtyard with a two-story residential unit at the rear.
Throughout the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) a large number of wealthy landowners and merchants built well-appointed dwellings like this in the Lake Tai area near Su-chou. Comprehensive sumptuary regulations dictated the size, decorative embellishment and even floor tile patterns of these structures in strict accord with the owner's official rank and social status. The diagonal floor pattern, carved beams and ornate cloud-and-phoenix panels in the uppermost reaches of the ceiling for instance, indicate that the Wu family had achieved a relatively high official status.
When purchased by the museum in 1996, this reception hall was the only building remaining of a residence built by the prominent Wu family. The first room of its kind to enter an American collection, the room serves as an exhibition gallery for classical furniture featuring alternating installations for receptions and ancestor worship.
Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton