The USC Pacific Asia Museum is hosting one of its largest-ever exhibitions featuring many items never seen before in the United States.
“Royal Taste: The Art of Princely Courts in 15th Century China” opened Friday, Feb. 26 at the Pasadena museum focusing on the luxurious lifestyles and religious customs of princely courts in early- and mid-Ming Dynasty China (1368-1644).
There are more than 140 pieces, including sculpture, crowns, jewelry, ceramics, textiles, plaques, paintings and hairpins.
“This is the first time the USC Pacific Asia Museum has mounted an international traveling exhibition of such magnitude and importance,” Museum Director Dr. Christine Yu Yu said.
“This is one of the largest exhibitions that I’ve worked on in recent years,” Exhibition Curator Yeonsoo Chee said.
Some of the objects in “Royal Taste” have been excavated from royal tombs. Many of these archeological finds have been as recent as in the past two decades.
“The range and quality of the objects excavated from the regional princes’ tombs demonstrate the might of the Ming Dynasty,” Chee said. “The exquisite beauty and superb craftsmanship of the gold objects are a testament to the artistic sophistication of the early Ming Dynasty.”
The exhibition has 40 works from the tomb of Prince Zhuang of Liang, who died in 1441, in Zhongxiang. This includes an imperial certificate of royal marriage as well as gold and silver court gifts.
There are 30 pieces from the royal tombs of the Jing Kingdom of Qichun County, including personal jewelry.
Another notable grouping is from the Daoist Wudang Mountain with 15 religious statues, such as the Perfected Warrior, Jade Maiden and Heavenly Saver.
“Royal Taste” is one of the first exhibitions in the United States that examines the lives of imperial family members who did not live in Beijing, according to Yu Yu. She said they were sent to different provinces as representatives of royal power and wealth, for patronage of art in different regions in China and to prevent the brothers of the heir apparent from overthrowing and/or threatening him. Chee said the lifestyle of royalty outside of Beijing was unknown until these excavations were performed.
The exhibition was organized in collaboration with The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla. and the Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, China. In addition to the exports from the Hubei Provincial Museum, pieces are also from the private collection of Dr. Tei Fu Chen and USC PAM’s permanent collection.
“In this exhibition, about 150 pieces are borrowed from China,” Yu Yu said. “A significant amount of them are regarded as National Cultural Relics of the First Grade, which means it is a very rare opportunity for us to assemble all these treasures in Pasadena and present them to our audience.”
“Royal Taste” is divided into three different sections with the first displaying gold, silver and jade adornments from the tombs of princes. Chee said jade was more valuable to the Chinese in the 15th century than gold and silver. Included in this first section are 27 hairpins discovered in Prince Zhuang’s tomb and they were thought to be owned by his second wife, Lady Wei. Hairpins were a popular item for women during that time for decorative purposes and to show their noble status. Other jewelry, such as necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings, also showed family status among Ming Dynasty women.
The second section focuses on decorative objects from the noble lifestyle, with items such as paintings, ceramics and textiles. Chee said paintings and ceramics were very important to the Ming existence.
The last section shows works related to Tibetan Buddhism and Daoism, also referred to as Taoism.
Yu Yu said the exhibition showcases the diversity of the religious practices of royal families.
“It was more than just Buddhist practices,” she said. “Even within Buddhist practices, we see royal families practicing Esoteric Buddhism, which in America most people know as Tibetan Buddhism. That’s really a heritage from the previous dynasty when China was ruled by the Mongols.”
“Royal Taste: The Art of Princely Courts in 15th Century China” runs until June 26, 2016. Special Exhibition Admission for USC PAM is $18 for adults; $15 for students and seniors; $8 for USC students/faculty with a valid ID; and free for children 12 and younger. The museum is located at 46 N. Los Robles Ave. Its hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. For more information, visit http://pacificasiamuseum.usc.edu or call 626-449-2742.