One of the largest Ming porcelains from the British Museum will go on loan outside of London for the first time

One of the largest porcelains in the Sir Percival David Collection held at the British Museum, a beautiful glazed blue and white garden seat dating from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), is set to tour the UK in 2020. This marks the first time that the seat has been lent to an external venue in the UK, presenting a rare opportunity to view the object outside of London as part of the British Museum’s National Programmes.

Travelling to museums in Manchester, Newcastle and Exeter, a variety of programming will be on offer at each venue to coincide with the British Museum Spotlight Loan, ranging from bespoke workshops to community engagement and lectures for university students. Each venue will display A Ming Emperor’s seat in a different context, ranging from the seat’s botanical connections to other cultures from around the world, utilising each museum’s own collections.

Side view, large hollow blue and white porcelain garden seat, Jingdezhen, 1573–1620
© The Trustees of the British Museum lent by kind permission of the Trustees of the Sir Percival David Foundation

The garden seat was made for the court of the Wanli Emperor (r.1573–1620), one of the longest reigning of all the Ming dynasty emperors. Crafted in Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China for over a thousand years, the seat gives an invaluable insight into Chinese court culture. Measuring nearly half a metre high, the large hollow seat may have been moved from inside court to the surrounding gardens, reflecting the needs of court life. The object features blue dragons surrounded by clouds, waves and a flaming jewel. Dense patterns of leaves and flowers ornament the sides which are pierced with intricate rings. The use of a dragon is significant because in China, dragons are used as an auspicious motif and as a shorthand symbol for the emperor himself.

The Spotlight Loan follows on from the tenth anniversary of the arrival on long-term loan of the Sir Percival David Collection at the British Museum. During this ten-year period, the Spotlight Loan is only the second time that an object has been lent from the Sir Percival David Collection, following a loan of one of the ‘David’ vases to the Shanghai Museum in 2012. One of the foremost assemblages of Chinese ceramics in the world, the Collection comprises some 1,700 objects, primarily ceramics dating from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, spanning a thousand years. The businessman and philanthropist, Sir Percival David (1892–1964) built up this extraordinary collection