Ming: 50 years that changed China, The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1, until 4th January 2014
This exhibition tells the story of the fifty years (1400-1450) when China became a global super power. Admiral Zheng was responsible for sending treasure ships to South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East which resulted in trade and growing diplomatic ties. At home things changed politically with power becoming centralised rather than devolved as bureaucrats took over from military leaders. Even the Emperor’s role changed from that of an autocrat to one of iconic status. China’s borders became established and Beijing became the Imperial capital, with the Emperor building the Forbidden City.
The emphasis of this exhibition is on the cultural and social changes happening at this time concentrating not only on the Imperial Courts of the four Emperors who reigned during this period but also on three regional princely tombs East (Sichuan), Southwest (Shandong) and Central China (Hubei) and the objects found within. This really is a superb exhibition on all levels and you should visit before it closes.
A last thought and that is the late 1490s painting of the Adoration of the Three Magi by Andrea Mantegna which is included in this show. Why you may ask? Well the oldest of the Magi who offers gold coins to the Infant Christ, holds a tiny blue-and-white porcelain bowl or cup. A reminder that a small number of Chinese ceramics are known to have been in Europe in the 15th century and slightly earlier although it would be the 16th century before they became more common.
Many thanks to Errol Manners FSA for his advice