Drawn entirely from the extensive resources of the Metropolitan Museum, this exhibition presents the rich diversity of art created under China's Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Its seventy paintings and calligraphies chronicle the parallel evolutions of the courtly and the scholar-amateur traditions. These works are complemented by a generous selection of textiles, ceramics, lacquers, cloisonné, jades, and bamboo carvings that showcase the material prosperity experienced under the Ming, whose name aptly translates as "brilliant."
The Ming dynasty represents a period of native rule between the fall of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) and the rise of the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1911). The early Ming era was a period of cultural restoration and expansion. Seeking to reassert native artistic traditions, court artists revived and adapted the figural and landscape themes and styles of the Song dynasty (960–1279) to suit the new decorative and didactic needs of the Ming emperors. The period was also among the most glorious in Chinese ceramics history. But the second half of the dynasty was weakened by capricious and incompetent rulers. Many government officials chose to retire early to take up poetry, calligraphy, or painting, often working in garden settings similar to the Metropolitan's Astor Court, which is modeled on a Ming scholar's garden courtyard in the cosmopolitan city of Suzhou.
The exhibition, which is arranged chronologically, is organized into three overarching themes: "The Return of the Academy," "Literati Artists," and "The Late Ming: An Expanding Literati Culture."