Defining Yongle: Imperial Art in Early Fifteenth-Century China
The Yongle emperor (r. 1403&ndash1425) was the most powerful, effective, and extravagant ruler of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). His reign was punctuated by vigorous military campaigns and unprecedented maritime expeditions. A son of the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, he seized the throne from his nephew and moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. Yongle's strong faith in Tibetan Buddhism, and the means of production at his disposal, determined both the repertory and the style of the superb paintings, sculptures, lacquers, metalwork, ceramics, textiles, and ivories produced in the imperial workshops during his reign. This exhibition defines a crucial moment in the development of imperial Chinese art and its relationship to later artistic traditions. On view are sculptures, lacquers, metalwork, ceramics, textiles, and ivories. Important recent acquisitions—such as a gilt-brass sculpture, Manjushri, depicting the Bodhisattva of Wisdom and a rare lacquer sutra box with incised gold decoration (qiangjin)—are presented along with twelve works (embroidered silks and works in cloisonné, ivory, and lacquer) acquired since 1990. Fifteen loans, many from New York collections, supplement the thirty-three objects drawn from the Metropolitan Museum's permanent collection.