THEY would not look out of place in a contemporary kitchen, but these pretty yellow dishes are actually more than 500 years old.

“They do look very modern,” agrees Dr Yupin Chung, curator of Chinese and East Asian Art for Glasgow Life Museums.

“The simplicity of design is something similar to what contemporary potters might create. My favourite is the warm-toned, glazed dish, which has blue and white calligraphy on the base. It dates back to the Ming Dynasty, the Hongzi Period from 1488 to 1505.”

She smiles: “It must have passed through so many hands. I find that quite magical.”

The dish in question is one of the many priceless artefacts housed in Glasgow’s world-famous Burrell Collection. Sir William Burrell purchased it at auction in 1944.

“The colour was called ‘imperial yellow’ in Europe, and ‘chicken-fat yellow’ in China, which sounds less appealing,” adds Yupin, smiling.

“Dishes like this were used in palaces and temples, and for the personal use of the emperor and empress. The calligraphy represents the six-character mark of Hongzhi, a peace-loving emperor who had only one empress and no concubines.

“They were also used in court rituals at the Temple of the Earth, since yellow also signified Earth, one of the five elements, along with wood, fire, metal, and water.”

Colour is extremely important in Chinese culture and the Burrell’s new Colour Gallery shows it off to exquisite effect.

Yupin explains: “The Burrell Collection has a large number of fine monochromes, including an extraordinary blue jar from the Tang Dynasty, a superb example of a copper-red glazed bowl, and many refined imperial pieces with ‘perfect’ yellow glazes.

“Generally, in Chinese culture, the order of the five elements corresponds with the following colours – metal and white, wood and blue, fire and red, earth and yellow and water and black.

“White represents gold and symbolizes brightness, purity, and cleanliness. It is also the colour of mourning. Blue represents nature and renewal, and red, which symbolises good fortune and joy, is ubiquitous in China.

“It is used especially during the Chinese New Year and other holidays and also at weddings and family gatherings.

“Yellow is considered the most beautiful and prestigious of colours. The ancient Chinese regarded black as the king of colours and honoured it more consistently than any other colour.

“Black tea bowls became fashionable at Court and with the Chinese elite, as well as being exported to Japan in vast numbers.”

Yupin has worked with Glasgow Life Museums, the charity which runs the Burrell, since 2009.

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She curated the major 2011 exhibition, China through the Lens of John Thomson 1868–72, which was devoted to images of China taken by the well-known Scottish photographer and traveller.

The Colour Gallery at the Burrell is one of her favourite spaces in the museum.

“It is a beautiful gallery, the perfect place to explore the meaning of colour in art,” she says. “The Burrell is surrounded by the nature of Pollok Park. You can see trees wherever you look.

“Glasgow is a city of trees. I think our museum is unique – this idea that it does not have to be a concrete building, in a concrete street. It is a lovely place to work.”