Island Treasures

Chinese ceramics for South-East Asia from the 1st to the 17th centuries - Collection of Ambassador and Mrs Charles Müller

14 November 2003 - 21 March 2004


This exhibition presents more than 200 Chinese ceramics from the remarkable collection of Ambassador and Mrs Charles Müller, originally begun by Mrs Müller during the couple’s stay in Indonesia from 1970 to 1973. As their interest and enthusiasm grew, so the collection gradually expanded to include eighty pieces ranging in date from the 13th to the 19th centuries. After a first exhibition in our museum in 1994, further pieces were added to the collection, so that today it offers a panorama of Chinese export ware to South-East Asia from the beginnings of Chinese maritime trade in the 1st century down to the 17th century. Marco Polo’s descriptions of Chinese porcelain had led to a fascination for these ceramics in the West, but until the 16th century few pieces had ever reached Europe, whereas South-East Asia had had a flourishing trade with China since Antiquity. The major steps in the development and spread of Chinese ceramics from the early celadon ware of the 1st century through the translucent porcelains and mythical celadon ware of the Song dynasty (960-1279), down to the blue-and-whites of the Ming (1368-1644) are all represented here.

The exhibition, which is divided into four sections, is an invitation to discover this Chinese export ware and its characteristic flavour.

The first section deals with the early centuries of trade with a variety of utilitarian containers including jars from the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220), amphorae and small pots from the Tang (618-907), as well as jars and kendi from the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties.

In the second part are presented the bluish-white qingbai porcelain and the sober celadon ware of the 10th to the 15th centuries. Light blue floral designs mark the very beginnings of the use of cobalt oxide in the 14th century, while the small-sized pieces with brown spots are representative of a production intended mainly for export to South-East Asia.

The blue-and-white Ming dynasty porcelain presented in the third section reveals the great range of shapes and designs which developed from the 15th to the 17th centuries, including small figures, mythical animals, flower and bird paintings, as well as more classic scrolls.

The fourth and last section presents a variety of Swatow ware with an exceptional display of jars, dishes, and bowls, porcelain painted in vivid enamels, as well as monochromes sometimes combined with slip designs, all of which reflect the charm and spontaneity of this provincial production.