Ming Wilson

Back to the blog front page

The 12 zodiac animals at the V&A

This year Chinese New Year Day falls on 3rd February. Celebrations usually go on a little longer. In ancient China the finale of festival activities was a splendid display of brightly lit lanterns on the 15th day, after sunset. The coming new year will be the Year of the Rabbit (some say ‘Hare’). Before 1912 the Chinese reckoning of the passage of time was not linear, but cyclical. The Chinese people did not call one year 1001, the following year 1002, and so on. The reckoning of any given year consisted of two parts – the heavenly stem (thereare ten) …

Keep reading

Political or inspirational

The imperial robes arrived in London on 19th November. When they came out of the crates every member of the installation team was stunned by their beauty. This was not the first time I saw them in the flesh, but each piece still filled me with profound admiration. The skill of the Chinese weavers and embroiderers was out of this world. One has to see them to believe that such craftsmanship was possible Packing at the Palace Museum and installation at the V&A Journalists have expressed a great deal of interest in the way the robes were preserved. The garments …

Keep reading

What did a Chinese emperor do

Since working on this exhibition I have asked myself more than once: what did a Chinese emperor do to govern a country with a population of a hundred million (that was the figure when the Manchu took over as ruler of China in 1644). The Manchu was a minority people who led a nomadic life outside the Great Wall before they seized power. They did not build the Forbidden City – they simply inherited it from the previous dynasty, the Ming. It was in the Palace of Supreme Harmony that the first Manchu emperor, Shunzhi, ascended the throne. He wore …

Keep reading

The conservator took measurements

The object list was approved in July, by which time the design of the show cases was more or less in place. As the installation of the exhibition will happen on an unusually tight schedule, it was imperative that every aspect of the design be planned for in detail prior to the arrival of the exhibits. Therefore the V&A conservator Sam Gatley made a trip to the Palace Museum. The following is an account of her five-day sojourn in Beijing. Walking into the grounds of the Forbidden City for the first time was quite an extraordinary experience. Firstly you are …

Keep reading

The object list

Both the V&A and the Palace Museum agreed that the exhibition should be on costumes and accessories. My first task as the exhibition curator was to draw up an object list. How did I set about doing that? As mentioned previously the Palace Museum is a historic site. The numerous palaces and halls were built for the emperors to live in, not for the display of artefacts. The robes are not on permanent display. Fortunately the Palace Museum has published two excellent books – one on their dress collection and one on their fabrics collection. They also mounted a special …

Keep reading

The Palace Museum/V&A exchange

When I heard, back in May 2009, that an agreement on an exchange of exhibitions had been reached with the Palace Museum in Beijing I was both excited and apprehensive. There were good reasons to be excited – the Palace Museum is the custodian of all the things that once belonged to emperors and their immediate families. Everything in its collection is of ‘imperial’ quality. No artefacts used by commoners or low-ranking state officials would ever enter its storehouse. To a curator of Chinese art there is no better place to learn about court life and imperial taste. Birds eye …

Keep reading