LONDON » Intricate, inventive and ahead of their time — and that’s just the vases. London’s British Museum opened a major new exhibition Thursday exploring the rich art and global influences of China’s Ming era in the 15th century.
Some 280 objects from the years 1400 to 1450 will be featured, from bejeweled gold vessels and gilded-bronze Buddhist figures to a 30-foot-long scroll painted on bamboo.
"This early 15th century is a moment when you can actually bring all these things together and have a snapshot of what it was like to be in China" in that period, said the exhibition’s co-curator Jessica Harrison-Hall. That’s before Columbus was even born, she added.
The exhibition looks at China’s culture, government and place in the world in the early Ming dynasty, described as a "pivotal 50-year period" for the country. It was during this time that China’s capital moved from Nanjing to Beijing, with the Forbidden City at its heart. The vast palace is a national symbol to this day.
The period also saw Chinese treasure ships exploring the seas, creating trade links spanning Kyoto in Japan to Mogadishu in Somalia.
That international status created a flow of visitors to the state, bringing new goods and ideas, and influencing everything, including the Ming dynasty’s famed porcelain production.
The exhibition displays a collection of elaborate and grand porcelain shapes inspired by Middle Eastern candlesticks, made from Central Asian jade and glass from Syria.
"The international contacts are effectively reflected in the porcelain of the period," said Harrison-Hall.
The exhibition — which was five years in the making — is part of new research efforts to shed light on early-15th-century China on the international stage.
While older accounts focus on the early 1500s, when Portuguese and Spanish vessels began trading directly with China, the exhibition shows the wealth of China’s international reach around 100 years prior.
"Ming: 50 Years That Changed China" will run at London’s British Museum through Jan. 5.
James Brooks, Associated Press