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from 23 June 2016 to 16 February 2017
Roma, Museo Nazionale del Palazzo di Venezia

Highlights of Ancient Chinese Porcelain from the Shanghai Museum: 10th-19th Century

Press Release

From the 23rd of June 2016 to the 16th of February 2017 the fifteenth-century halls of Palazzo Venezia will host for the first time in Italy, the ancient Chinese ceramics from the collection of The Shanghai Museum - one of the most important museums in China. The exhibition "Highlights of Ancient Chinese porcelain" is a rare showcase of 74 precious ceramics of ancient Chinese tradition, valuable evidence of the manufacture China produced between the tenth and nineteenth centuries: the great variety and prosperity of the Song and Yuan period (960-1368); the pottery of the Jingdezhen kilns under the Ming (1368-1644) was produced mainly for the imperial court; up to the latest Qing era (1644-1911), the apex of maximum splendour and maturity of the art.

China, considered as "the land of ceramics", is the place where the production of porcelain, a precious kind of ceramic, began before any other country in the world. The exhibition will give visitors the chance to be surrounded by traditional Chinese culture through a selection of refined everyday-life objects that attest to the popularity of porcelain in different historic periods: tools for the collection of drinks and food, but also flower pots, oil lamps, brush holders, headrests, objects for rituals, statues of gods, ink holders for writers, objects related to the funeral habits of the time, candlesticks and incense to perfume clothes.

The exhibition, curated by Lu Minghua and cocuratori Dong Zhang and Peng Tao of Shanghai Museum, is under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China, the Embassy of the PRC in Italy and the Ministry of cultural heritage and activities and tourism of the Italian Republic (MiBACT). It is organized by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of China (SACH), by the General Museum Directorate of MiBACT, by the Museums Administration of Lazio, in collaboration with the Shanghai Museum in Shanghai.

The exhibition is part of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Partnership for the Promotion of Cultural Heritage signed October 7th, 2010 between the Ministry of cultural heritage and activities and tourism of the Italian Republic and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of the People's Republic of China. This includes the exchange of permanent museum spaces dedicated to the respective cultures, in order to promote and enable a greater and deeper understanding between the two peoples. The first significant Italian example of a museum outside its national borders is the exhibition space granted to the Directorate General for the enhancement of cultural heritage by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of the Republic of China within the National Museum of China on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. This hosted the exhibitions "Renaissance in Florence. Masterpieces and protagonists" in 2012, as well as "Rome. Seventeenth century towards the Baroque" in 2014 and "Glory of Light and colour. Four centuries of venetian painting" in 2016.

The Italian compensation for the implementation of the Chinese exhibitions is the space inside of the fifteenth-century halls of the National Museum of Palazzo Venezia. This year, it will be devoted to the exhibition "Masterpieces of ancient Chinese porcelain from the Museum of Shanghai", the fourth of five exhibitions hosted under the agreement, the others being "Archaic China" of 2013, "Legendary graves of Mawangdui" of 2014 and "The treasures of imperial China" of 2015.

To understand Chinese ceramics one must know its characteristics depending on the specific historical period, the dynasty, the place of manufacturing and the manufacturing peculiarities (sometimes evident from the colour of the glaze) and finally on the kilns where it was produced. Official kilns produced solely for the imperial family while popular ones produced only everyday objects. The exhibition will allow the public to appreciate the cultural evolution and the technological innovations that led to a great variety of forms and functions, through the succession of dynasties.

Porcelain was first created in the northern territories during the period of the Northern Dynasties (mid-6th century). Since the Northern Song Dynasty (10th century), the production of ceramics spread across China, the kilns multiplied and the variety of goods produced increased dramatically. The works on display from the Song (960-1279), Jin (1115-1234) and Yuan (1271-1368) Dynasties reflect the richness and diversity of Chinese ceramics.

During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, the centre of ceramic manufacturing shifted. After the foundation of the Ming dynasty in 1368, the imperial family settled their kilns in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province. With time, these porcelains became more and more important, to the point that they spread substantially in all spheres of life at court. The great reputation of the porcelain produced during the Yongle reign (1403-1424), Xuande (1426-1435) and Chenghua (1465-1487) of the Ming Dynasty made these objects highly sought out collectibles for all following generations. In 1644, the new Qing Dynasty followed the example of the Ming, expanding the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen. Innovations in technology and production types were made, and ceramics reached its highest peak in history, especially during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722), Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qianlong (1736-1795).

The polychrome decorations of wucai (five colours), falangcai glazes (pigments and techniques from the West), famille rose porcelains contrast with the white and blue of the Ming ceramics, emphasizing not only the variety of shapes produced but also of colours.

In addition to flowers, dragons and clouds, traditional themes of ancient China were also depicted, often borrowed from paintings and sculptures, such as the scene of a man carrying a qin and visiting a friend, symbolically representing the spiritual quest of the ancient literati and the ideal they pursued.


Particularly valuable is the Blue and white vase with motifs of peonies, flowers and branches form the furnaces of Jingdezhenil of the Yuan Dynasty, with white and blue cobalt decorations. The Cup with motifs in red overglaze and blue underglaze from the kilns of Jingdezhen, Ming Dynasty, is of exceptional workmanship. In fact, stem bowls are only very rarely decorated with red overglaze and blue underglaze decoration. To achieve this result, the piece must be cooked twice. The Incense burner in the shape of duck with polychrome decoration sancai, from the Jingdezhen kilns of the Ming Dynasty, is the result of an excellent restoration: it was found in pieces in the imperial kiln of origin and has been restored by the Shanghai Museum: no crack is visible. The Little taibai vase with red “peach flower” glaze, coming from the kilns of Jingdezhen, was created under the Qing dynasty, during the Kangxi era, when glazes were first introduced to paint porcelain.

The exhibition will also screen the video "Traditional Techniques of Making Porcelain in Jingdezhen", created by the Shanghai Museum, which will illustrate the history, technique and implementation phases of Chinese ceramics: from handwork and decoration, to the baking in the furnace.