Yongle Imperial Art, an introduction
Posted by: plcombs Dealers Chinese Art – Antiques
Yongle imperial art is one of the great high points of China’s entire history, ranging from the near perfection of blue and white porcelain to finely carved lacquer, paintings, cloisonne and a myriad of other decorative arts produced during the early 15th C. . The catalog is now sadly out of print, however the Metropolitan Museum’s PDF file of the exhibition is available online and we’ve been able to convert it into an easy to read book format. Shown below the catalog are a few excerpts from this outstanding well illustrated book.
The book goes into considerable detail explaining the significance or how assorted visual symbols are incorporated into various mediums and their origins of use from the regions of asia. As well as explaining the influences of other cultures and how interactions in trade enabled their migration into Chinese cultures and art.
The catalog, now out of print; “Defining Yongle Imperial Art in Early Fifteenth-Century China”
by; Philippe de Montebello Director, The Metropolitan Museum, New York
Yongle Imperial Art
This exhibition, devoted to the arts produced during the reign of Yongle (14o3-24), third emperor of the Ming dynasty in China, is one of the small exhibitions, staged from time to time at the Metropolitan Museum, that focus on individual topics. The arts of the Yongle reign deserve special attention because of their extraordinarily high quality and their influence on the subsequent development of Chinese art up to the end of the eighteenth century. Despite its small scale, the exhibition offers a comprehensive view of this important period in Chinese art by including every major category of art objects produced in the Yongle reign.
Buddhism and Islamic Influences on Yongle Porcelain
In this publication, produced to accompany the exhibition, the curators present an account of the art styles and techniques that had their roots in the cosmopolitan culture of the previous Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), when the Mongol rulers of China brought to Dadu (Beijing) the finest craftsmen from every corner of the vast Mongol empire. In particular, two aspects of the arts of Yongle are stressed. The first is the impact of Tibetan Buddhism on the imperial arts of China as a result of the Yongle emperor’s strong attachment to Buddhism. The second is the artistic exchange between China and the Islamic lands in Central Asia and the Middle East as a result of diplomatic and trade activities. On the Chinese side, this exchange is evident in the shapes of Yongle porcelain for export and domestic use, which in some cases are derived from Islamic glass and metalwork.
The core group of exhibits consists of objects in various media collected over the past fifteen years by curators of the Department of Asian Art with the support of patrons of the Department, particularly Florence and Herbert Irving and Sir Joseph Hotung. The display has been augmented by loans from other institutions and collectors, and our grateful thanks are due to Robert Rosenkranz, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Asia Society and Museum, the Rubin Museum of Art, and the Peabody Essex Museum. The Metropolitan Museum is deeply indebted to The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation for its generous support of the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue. Indeed, we remain ever grateful for the Wallach Foundation’s steadfast contributions toward the activities of the Department of Asian Art.
Yongle Imperial Art of China
Zhu Di, third emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-164, is one of the most written about personalities in Chinese history. Though the various arts produced during his reign (14o2-24) have individually received considerable attention, particularly in the areas of porcelain, lacquer, and gilt bronze Buddhist images, the present exhibition brings together every known type of decorative and Buddhist art produced in his reign. Most of the objects can to some degree be associated with imperial patronage, especially those for religious use.
The reign of Zhu Di was known as “Yongle” (perpetual happiness), and he is generally referred to as the Yongle emperor, or simply as Yongle. Orthodox historians use his posthumous honorific title of Chengzu. He is a favorite subject of historians and folklorists alike, as there is much to tell, and wonder about, in his life and deeds. He may have been one of the last rulers whose private wishes determined the course of his country’s history. His life can be regarded as a grand drama, centered on his person and played upon the vast stage of the early Ming empire. Historical writing on Yongle can be compared to literary criticism—which is to say that his actions, and the motives behind them, are open to as many different interpretations as there are commentators. The epic maritime expeditions that he instigated, led by the able officer Zheng He, have generated many legends and historical studies. Irrespective of the consequences of the expeditions, they have occasioned either high praise as a spectacular achievement or blame as an extremely expensive exercise serving no particular purpose.
Attacks on Mongolia and Gifts to Tibet
Historical models, those of Alexander, Emperor Taizong of the Tang, or Chinggis Khan, are inapplicable, as territorial gain was not the intention or the result of these naval expeditions. Historians will no doubt be occupied for some time debating why the emperor personally led repeated military incursions into Mongolia, even when the Mongols posed no immediate threats, even into old age and while in poor health, dying on his last campaign in 1424. On one subject, however, his religious belief, there has been general agreement until relatively recently. His lavish gifts to Tibetan monks and monasteries and his generous hospitality to lamas from Tibet have always been portrayed not as the acts of a devout believer, but as part of an astute political strategy to appease Tibetans and prevent them from allying them-selves with the Mongols___ who, after the expulsion of the ruling house of Kubilai from China, still entertained the intention of a return to power.
This explanation, based on the accounts in official Chinese histories, seems to make good sense, but some historians in the last century have raised doubts about these accounts,’ and the art historian must side with them. After all, the Chinese court throughout history used massive gifts to pacify neighbors and minority populations who posed threats. However no Chinese emperor, let alone one who was as powerful and strong willed as Yongle, treated any Buddhist eminences with the same degree of deference, amounting to abject adulation. What is more, judging by the objects that have survived from the Yongle era, the great majority of those produced in the imperial workshops served a religious function or, at a minimum, were decorated with (Tibetan) Buddhist symbols. Who but the emperor himself had ordered them?