I do enjoy reading the catalogues for exhibitions that I can’t attend in person, as in my last book review, and this was no exception - a National Museums Scotland catalogue, for an exhibition of Ming art held in Edinburgh over the summer of 2014, opening a few months ahead of the Ming exhibition at the British Museum.
The exhibition was based primarily on loans from Nanjing Museum, with additional objects from National Museums Scotland. Ceramics and painting feature very prominently, but the scope is wide, including bronze, jade, furniture, lacquer, maps, textiles, and even the examination scripts of those seeking to join the ranks of officialdom.
Particular items speak to the cultural output of Nanjing itself – for instance, high-quality textiles such as silk brocade from the Nanjing workshops, or earthenware bricks from the Nanjing City Wall, each stamped with the name of the worker who made it, and his supervisors, in case it turned out substandard.
I liked the clean design of this catalogue and the excellent illustrations – though it was disappointing that a small minority of entries carried no image. Best of all, I found the text lucid and very readable, not just the text-box explanations of key themes (silk, Daoism etc) but also the informative essays fronting each chapter. This was accessible in the best possible way, an enjoyable read for those new and not so new to the field.
Ming: The Golden Empire
Kevin McLoughlin, ed., 2014.
National Museums Scotland, 144pp, £20.