A Ming Emperor’s seat
Large hollow blue and white porcelain garden seat Jingdezhen, 1573–1620
This garden seat dates from the time of the Chinese Ming Emperor Wanli (reigned 1573-1620). That is the time when James I united the Scottish and English thrones. The exhibit celebrates the tenth anniversary of the Sir Percival David Collection at the British Museum and is a touring spotlight loan.
Manchester Museum is proud to host a British Museum Touring Spotlight Loan: a Ming Emperor’s Seat until April 19th. The focus of the exhibition is beautiful porcelain garden seat made for the emperor Wanli who ruled China between 1573 and 1620. This fine quality object was made in the kilns at Jingdezhen and is decorated on top with a blue dragon playing with a pearl. It is part of the Sir Percival David Collection. Sir Percival David (1892-1964) was an avid collector of Chinese porcelain.
Manchester Museum is showing the Ming Emperor’s garden seat with a selection of botanical prints and specimens from the Museum’s botany collection to highlight China’s significance as a centre of world botanical diversity and the source of many of Britain’s most popular garden plants. It’s been calculated that about 10% of world botanical diversity is found in China. Chinese people have, over several thousand years, very successfully exploited this natural resource for decorative plants, shrubs and trees, but also for medicinal purposes.
China’s contribution to British gardens is often overlooked. It is very important for Manchester Museum to tell this story because it is our mission to build better understanding between different cultures and to work towards a sustainable world. Manchester Museum has an encyclopaedic collection, which covers all disciplines from archaeology and archery through to zoology. The Museum’s Herbarium holds 600,000 specimens, some 2,500 of them collected in China during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Europeans who went to China to trade realised just how rich China’s plant life was when they visited Chinese nurseries close to treaty ports and began shipping specimens back to Britain. Later, specially-commissioned plant-hunters travelled into the interior of the country, collecting seeds for propagation in British nurseries. One plant-hunter, Augustine Henry (1857-1930), worked for the Chinese customs service. The Museum’s curators were thrilled to find some of the ferns and flowering plants he and his team of Chinese fieldworkers collected. A China rose specimen in the display is one of Augustine Henry’s specimens.
The botanical prints in the exhibition show decorative plants known in China as ‘the Twelve Guests’. These were the recommended plants that no good garden in China should be without. You can see the following in the display: camellia, Chinese cassia, pompon chrysanthemum, winter daphne, jasmine, sacred lotus, Four-Seasons orchid, herbaceous and tree peony, pomegranate, Chinese plum, and Chinese rose. Some of these, such as camellia, chrysanthemum, jasmine and peony are often taken for granted as British native garden plants when in fact originally they came from China. Some of them were first encountered in Britain as illustrations on Chinese porcelain and considered to be fantastical until the real plants were seen in nurseries in China and found to be living plants.
Information in multi-lingual format about the display is also available online. Using Near Field Communication (NFC) tags we also provide enhanced interpretation for the benefit of visually impaired and other visitors. People who are not able to visit the display in person can also access this interpretation online.
Public programme events
Jessica Harrison Hall, Curator of Chinese Collections at the British Museum, will give a talk about Chinese history through objects at the Manchester China Institute on 19th March. There will also be a guided tour of the Herbarium to see plant specimens from China and to talk about some of the prominent plant hunters and Chinese fieldworkers.
A new China Gallery at Manchester Museum
The Touring Spotlight Loan is one of number of displays and events leading up to the creation of the new Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery. This is part of the Museum’s ambitious and exciting £13 million hello future development, which includes a new Special Exhibitions Hall and a South Asia Gallery. Through this transformation our ambition is to become the world’s most inclusive, imaginative and caring museum, opening in 2022.