Pair of Gold Hairpins in Phoenix Shape 金鳳簪, gold, mid-16th century. Overall (each): 9 13/16 × 2 13/16 × 9/16 in., 0.3 lb. (25 × 7.1 × 1.5 cm, 0.1 kg).On loan from the Hubei Provincial Museum, P.R. China © Hubei Provincial Museum

SARASOTA, FLA.- Royal Taste: The Art of Princely Courts in Fifteenth-Century China, featuring many works of art never seen outside of China, is on view Oct. 9, 2015-Jan. 10, 2016 at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida. 

Royal Taste brings together works from the Hubei Provincial Museum and its affiliated institutions, along with The Ringling’s own Asian collection, to offer a rare glimpse into the lives of princely courts in early- to mid-Ming Dynasty China (1368-1644). The exhibition is the first in a series of exhibitions devoted to Asian art, and serves as a precursor to the opening of The Ringling’s Center for Asian Art in the Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt Gallery of Asian Art, scheduled for opening in 2016. The loans from the Hubei Provincial Museum, one of the leading museums in China, mark the beginning of significant collaboration between The Ringling and major museums in Asia. All the loans are on public view in the U.S. for the first time, and more than twenty percent are regarded as national treasures. 


Gold Plaque with figures in high relief, 16th century, Gold and gemstones, Height 7 cm, Chinese. © Qichun County Museum.

As we prepare to open our new center for Asian art, we’re thrilled to mount an exhibition of such rarity and beauty in partnership with the Hubei Provincial Museum,” said Steven High, Executive Director at The Ringling. “Royal Taste furthers The Ringling’s commitment to celebrate the vast scope of Asian art, and provides our audiences a first look at the type of world-class exhibitions and international programming that we plan to organize through the center for Asian art.” 

The exhibition features more than 140 works of pictorial, sculptural and decorative arts from recently-found royal tombs and the sacred Daoist Mount Wudang, a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. These works reveal some lesser-known aspects of palatial lives, religious patronage and afterlife beliefs of Ming princes, whose world has long been a mystery. Highlights include 40 works from the tomb of Prince Zhuang of Liang (d. 1441) in Zhongxiang city, which is one of the most significant discoveries of Ming archaeology in the past 50 years; a variety of personal jewelry made of gold and gems from the royal tombs of the Jing Kingdom in Qichun County; a dozen imperially-commissioned Daoist statues from Mount Wudang, the birthplace of tai chi practice; and pictorial and decorative works from the permanent collection of the Hubei Provincial Museum, including masterpieces by Ming painters Dai Jin (1388–1462), Lü Ji (1477–unknown) and Wu Wei (1459–1508). 


Gold hat top ornament inlaid with jade and gemstones, Yuan dynasty, 14th century or earlier. Gold and gemstones, Height 6.3 cm, Diameter 6.6 cm© Hubei Provincial Museum

The exhibition is organized by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in association with the Hubei Provincial Museum, China and curated by Dr. Fan Jeremy Zhang, the Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt Associate Curator of Asian Art at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. 

There’s a remarkable wealth of the material world of Ming princes yet to be given enough scholarly attention,” said Dr. Fan Zhang. “The royal patronage from the regional courts truly had a significant impact on the art-making and consumption of late imperial China. One of the largest exhibitions of courtly art from this period ever presented in the U.S., Royal Taste offers a fantastic showcase of the courtly art and life of provincial Ming China. I hope that The Ringling’s visitors will enjoy the opportunity to explore these tremendous works and learn about this exciting time in world history.” 


Gold bracelet set, before 1441. Gold and gemstones, Length 12.5 cm, Diameter 6.7 cm, Hubei Provincial Museum. Excavated in 2001 from the tomb of Prince Zhuang of Liang© Hubei Provincial Museum

A fully-illustrated catalogue published by Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers accompanies the exhibition and includes an introduction by Dr. Fan Zhang, in addition to essays by six leading Asian art scholars: David Sensabaugh, Ruth and Bruce Dayton Curator of Asian Art and head of the department of Asian art, Yale University Art Gallery; Robert Linrothe, Associate Professor of Himalayan art, Northwestern University; Noelle Giuffrida, Assistant Professor of East Asian art, Case Western Reserve University; Tracy Miller, Associate Professor of Asian art and architecture, Vanderbilt University; Lennert Gesterkamp, independent scholar of Yuan-Ming painting based in the Netherlands; and Laurie Barnes, Elizabeth B. McGraw Curator of Chinese Art at the Norton Museum of Art.


Gilded bronze statue of a Daoist deity, 15th century, Bronze, Height 68 cm. © Wudang Museum


Gold bar, 13cm long , 9.8cm wide and 1cm thick , weighs 1937 gramme, inscribed  "in April 1419 (17th year under the reign of Yongle)" © Hubei Provincial Museum


Blue and white pilgrim flask, Yongle reign. Gift of Ira and Nancy Koger to the Ringling Museum of Art, 2001© Ringling Museum of Art