A collection of original Ming artefacts from the Nanjing Museum, including Chinese National Treasures, will be on display in the only UK showing of this internationally significant exhibition.

Announcing the exhibition at a St Andrews Day reception in Beijing during his visit to China on Monday 4 November, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said:

“In 2011, on behalf of the people of Scotland, I signed a cultural memorandum of understanding with China’s Minister of Culture. As a result of the commitments by both the Scottish and Chinese governments we have seen a greater number of collaborations across the arts, creative industries, heritage and national collections allowing the people of both our countries to share some unique experiences.

“I am delighted that this partnership will see this exciting and special Ming exhibition brought to Edinburgh next summer, with National Museums Scotland and the Nanjing museum in China working together to exhibit the wonder of the Ming dynasty – an extraordinary period in Chinese history, renowned for its social, economic and cultural influence on shaping China’s present-day national identity.

“I would encourage everyone to take up this exciting opportunity to delve even deeper into the remarkable culture of the Ming dynasty and experience the fascinating and exquisite paintings, gold, porcelain, textiles, pottery and calligraphy with interactive digital displays giving visitors a real feel for this fascinating culture.

“This is a fantastic example of a cultural exchange that is helping us enhance the mutual understanding between our countries, creating an atmosphere of respect, trust and celebration.”

Ming: The Golden Empire will introduce the remarkable cultural, social and economic achievements of this dynasty. The Ming – meaning brilliant or bright – was a period of important social transformation that resulted in a thriving consumer culture, and was the starting point of modern China.

Dr Gordon Rintoul, Director of National Museums Scotland, said:

“We are thrilled to present Ming: The Golden Empire at the National Museum of Scotland, bringing a remarkable collection of treasures to the UK for the first time. The Ming Empire represented a great period of cultural and social transformation but also produced truly beautiful works of art. Visitors to the exhibition will experience both a visual feast and a compelling story. We are delighted to collaborate with the Nanjing Museum, one of the most prestigious in China, in hosting the only UK showing of this exhibition.”

Exquisite luxury items and rare objects reveal the wealth and opulence of the Ming imperial court. These include the iconic blue and white porcelain with which the Ming period is synonymous and which was far superior to anything that could be produced in Europe at that time. Also on display will be sumptuous silk textiles, gold and jades, and rare examples of elaborately enamelled cloisonné. A richly coloured painting from the early Ming illustrates the symbolic grandeur and geometrical order of Beijing’s newly-built Forbidden City. It was to be the imperial seat for emperors and their households for the following five centuries, and was the world’s largest palace complex.

The exhibition examines the court’s influence on Chinese society’s aesthetics and style. Ornate paintings on silk and detailed calligraphy take the viewer far from everyday Ming life. Artworks by leading Ming painters, such as Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Tang Ying (1470-1524), Qiu Ying (c.1494-1552), Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), and Dong Qichang (1555-1636) reveal the preoccupations of Ming society’s cultural elite, from courtesans to dreams of escape from official life. A collection of life-size portraits show the faces of the Ming’s educated elite – men who were at the very top of the late Ming social order.

Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was the first Westerner to serve at the Ming court. His detailed map of the world in the early 17th century features in the exhibition, combining European cartographic techniques with Chinese text. Ricci’s presence at the imperial court coincided with the great age of European expansion and exploration, and the development of first-hand European knowledge of China.

Supported by investment managers Baillie Gifford, Ming: The Golden Empire will introduce the remarkable cultural, technological and economic achievements of the dynasty, which culminated in unparalleled urban and commercial prosperity, and technological sophistication in printing, porcelain and silk production.

Sarah Whitley, Partner, Baillie Gifford, said:

“The magnificence of the Ming dynasty will make this a very special summer at the National Museum of Scotland and Baillie Gifford is delighted to be supporting its presence in Scotland.”

The Ming was also a period of social transformation, resulting in a thriving consumer culture. Many forms of visual art and handicraft flourished. Beautiful furniture, musical instruments, Buddhist artefacts and items of personal adornment bring to life the elegant tastes and concerns of this gilded age. Investigating the prosperous Ming economy and its effects on social order and cultural systems during the 16th and 17th centuries, the exhibition also reflects on the legacy the Ming has left Chinese culture.

Ming: The Golden Empire will be supported by a programme of events.

This exhibition has been produced by Nomad Exhibitions in association with Nanjing Museum.

For further information and images, please contact: Ruth Mackie or Bruce Blacklaw on r.mackie @nms.ac.uk, 0131 247 4288.

Notes to editors

  • The Ming Empire lasted for 276 years and was marked by economic strength and a dramatic flourishing of the arts.

  • The Ming Empire was founded by Zhu Yuanzhang in 1368. The fifth emperor, Xuande (reigned 1425-35) was considered a great royal patron for the arts and established the artistic reputation of the Ming Dynasty.

  • Nanjing Museum, China, was founded in 1933 and is one of the oldest and most prestigious museums in China. It holds more than 420,000 items in its collections, of which 2,000 are regarded as National Treasures.

  • Nanjing Museum is providing paintings, gold artefacts, textiles, porcelain and ceramics, furniture, and calligraphy from the Ming period on loan to the National Museum of Scotland

  • National Museums Scotland looks after museum collections of national and international importance and provides loans, partnerships, research and training in Scotland and internationally. Our individual museums are the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National War Museum. The National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh houses conservation and research facilities as well as collections not currently on display.

  • The National Museum of Scotland reopened in summer 2011 following a three-year, £47m redevelopment. Since then it has entered the top ten most popular UK visitor attractions (ALVA), becoming the most popular attraction in the country outside of London. With nearly 1.9 million visitors in 2012, the Museum is also one of the top 20 most popular art museums and galleries in the world (The Art Newspaper). It was also voted the number one museum in the UK in TripAdvisor’s inaugural Travellers’ Choice Awards earlier this year.

  • Baillie Gifford, the Edinburgh based investment management group, employs over 750 people and had assets under management and advice of over £84 billion as at 31 December 2012. Founded in 1908, Baillie Gifford acts globally, managing investments on behalf of pension funds, financial institutions, charities and retail investors. Baillie Gifford plays an active role in the community by supporting projects in the areas of education, social inclusion, and the arts. For examples of Baillie Gifford’s active role in the community please visit its corporate citizenship webpage.

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