Royal Taste offers a unique glimpse into the luxurious lifestyles and religious practices of princely courts in early- and mid-Ming China (1368-1644 C.E.). Organized by The Ringling, this exhibition of more than 140 works of pictorial, sculptural, and decorative arts reveals some lesser-known aspects of palatial lives, religious patronage, and afterlife beliefs of Ming princes, whose world has long been a mystery. The quality of craftsmanship and beauty of design testify to the richness and sophistication of the art and culture of the nobility in the provinces.
Scholars have traditionally paid close attention to the capitals of this powerful and wealthy empire, yet neglected its provincial areas, where princes were often granted their own fiefdoms to protect the central throne. As local branches of an extended imperial system, princely courts not only provide a vivid manifestation of the art and culture of the imperial court but also showcase traditions and fashions among local elites in the provinces. Since many princes dedicated themselves to artistic, literary, and theatrical pursuits, their patronage and consumption of the arts provide a distinctive lens through which to view the cultural, religious, and social activities of Ming nobility.
The majority of the objects on view were selected from recent archaeological finds now in the collections of four museums in Hubei province in China, and from imperially-commissioned statues housed at Daoist temples on Mount Wudang, the birthplace of tai chi. Through these important loans— all of which are traveling to the US for the first time—the exhibition provides a more complete understanding of the visual and religious worlds of Ming princes and demonstrates the vital role of their courts in shaping Ming material culture.