Oct 02 2014
The arrival of this amazing Ming vase at Weston Park museum has been very exciting both for us curators and our visitors. Dated 1426-35, it is one of the largest Ming imperial porcelain vases of its kind to have survived and is of exceptional quality. Its presence has been a catalyst for an extraordinary amount of activity which has resulted in a greater knowledge of our own blue-and-white collections and the legacy of a contemporary art commission which will grace the museum’s Treasures gallery long after the Ming vase has moved on.
Blue-and-white ceramics are famous around the world and the story of their development is a fascinating story of cross-cultural interactions. Middle Eastern designs in cobalt blue met fine porcelain made in China. Centuries later European workshops recreated its appearance using transfer-printing techniques and introduced Chinese-influenced designs such as the well-known Willow Pattern.
The Spotlight tour from the British Museum has prompted us to explore Sheffield’s own blue-and-white collection in more depth. One of the oldest objects on display alongside the Ming vase from the collection is a jar made in Jiangxi province, China, c.1300. It’s an early example of Chinese blue-and-white ceramic decoration made during the Mongol Yuan dynasty. Cobalt for the blue paint was imported from the Middle East, while the organic motifs are also copied from Middle Eastern patterns. This jar originally had a cover and was probably used for storing food.
Other star objects on display include beautiful hand-painted decorative tiles from Turkey and Syria c.1400s – 1600s used to decorate Islamic buildings. They may look like typical Islamic tiles but are in fact made of stone-paste, copied from Chinese porcelain. The large stylised lotus flowers at the centre of the tiles are also derived from Chinese designs.
Made in China has allowed us to work with local contemporary artists to produce an original commission inspired by the Ming vase. Cargo is an installation created by Jane Elliot and Jonathan Wilkinson inspired by the story of blue-and-white ceramics and the changes that have taken place over the last four hundred years in the way we transport and produce household objects.
Jane and Jonathan researched the movement of objects around the world; objects are packed carefully to be transported across the sea, each with their own story to tell. The images and objects displayed here are sewn together by invisible ties of a shared global culture, progress, memory, and love.
Made in China: An Imperial Ming Vase continues at Weston Park until Sunday 5 October 2014.
Top - Large porcelain flask painted with underglaze blue decoration. Made in Jingdezhen, China. Ming dynasty, Xuande mark and period, 1426–1435 © Trustes of the British Museum.
Middle - Hexagonal tile, stone-paste painted with underglaze cobalt-blue decoration, 1400-1450 © Museums Sheffield.
Bottom - Artists Jonathan Wilkinson and Jane Elliot with their new commission, Cargo (2014)