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A Century of Giving

Chinese Ridge Tile

Ming Dynasty (c.1368-1644)

The Fitzwilliam Museum: C.67-1911



Considering that it once stood on the roof of a building, this Ming dynasty (c1368-1644) ceramic tile is astonishingly well-preserved.

According to ancient Chinese belief, roofs are platforms for communication between the mortal and spirit worlds. Ridges and eaves were often decorated with animals, symbolic beasts, popular gods, or characters from literature. These figures functioned as guardians, warding off evil and attracting blessings and good fortune. This warrior on a prancing horse (now minus his lance, or sword) may have come from a temple or shrine.

The Ming period was the golden age of tile production in China. Lead-glazed ceramic roof tiles - which were more weatherproof than thatch or wooden shingles - were batch-produced in moulds. Their position, size, and sequence on the roof were determined by the prominence and scale of the building; the striking displays of colour were also strictly regulated.

This vividly coloured tile, acquired for the Museum in 1911, was a very early addition to the Oriental ceramics collection which, Cockerell recognised, was 'still in its infancy' when he became Director. His own curiosity about the East had been stimulated by his friendships with William Morris and Wilfrid Blunt. He began buying a wide range of Chinese, Japanese, Persian and Turkish pottery. And, from 1924 - with the help of Oscar Raphael, first Honorary Keeper of Oriental Ceramics - created an outstanding and representative collection.

Other Ming dynasty ridge tiles in the shape of a fish and a bird, and an early Thai dragon-shaped tile, can also be seen in Gallery 28.


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