VERBODEN PORSELEIN at Prinsenhof Museum, Delft

April – September 2017

Apart from its world class technical university, Delft has two claims to fame. One, as the birth and work place of painter Johannes Vermeer but more so, I suspect, for its blue and white pottery, ubiquitous not only in the cobbled streets and leafy canals of Delft, but around the world.

First created in the 16th century after being inspired by fine blue and white porcelain brought back from China by the Dutch East India Company, similar pieces from the Delft factories soon became sought after in their own right. However, their origins and inspirations were undeniable Chinese and the exhibition Verboden Porselein (Porcelain for the Forbidden City) at Delft’s Prinsenhof Museum tells of an amazing discovery at one of the earliest Ming dynasty factories in China.

During the early 1980s, an enormous quantity of pottery fragments was unearthed at the imperial kiln sites in the city of Jingdezhen. This archaeological discovery stunned the ceramic world: it was the earliest Ming-porcelain manufactured especially for the Chinese emperors. However, it never reached the imperial court in Beijing. Now, five hundred years later, in Verboden Porselein, these delicately decorated objects finally receive the attention they deserve. This exhibition is the first time the pieces have been seen outside of Asia.

There are many breathtaking objects, the fact they are reconstructed fragments almost adding to their appeal. They are beautifully displayed, most of them in giant circular glass cases. Ancient portraits of the first Ming emperor, Hongwu, who was largely responsible for the development of the famous porcelain, overlook the proceeding from the gallery walls. There are also fascinating multi-media displays with videos showing the excavation of the fragments and of craftsmen still at work.

Although the first connection between Delft and China was made over four centuries ago, the ties are still there and Delft potters from the present day have visited Jingdezhen to seek inspiration for their work, much of which is exhibited alongside the main pieces.

The fascinating exhibition, enhanced by an intriguing backstory, continues until 3rd September.     Michael Hasted    July 2017

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