NEW YORK, NY.-
A special exhibition featuring 90 exquisite objects that once adorned an exclusive compound in the Forbidden City will go on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
beginning February 1, 2011. Showcasing sumptuous murals, furniture, architectural elements, Buddhist icons, and decorative artsalmost all of which have never before been seen publiclyThe Emperors Private Paradise: Treasures from Forbidden City will present works of art that demonstrate the highest levels of artistic accomplishment in 18th-century China. Highlights of the exhibition will include an imposing portrait of the Qianlong Emperor, a radiant silk panel depicting a Buddhist shrine, magnificent thrones executed with impeccable craftsmanship, and a monumental jade-and-lacquer screen consisting of 16 panels.
Augmenting the objects will be photo murals of the Qianlong Garden as well as a video-simulated walk-through of the Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service (Juanqinzhai), the first building to be fully restored there.
The exhibition was organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in partnership with the Palace Museum and in cooperation with the World Monuments Fund and has been made possible through generous support from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and American Express. Additional support was provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Freeman Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and ECHO (Education through Cultural & Historical Organizations).
The Qianlong emperor (pronounced "chien-lung") was the fourth monarch of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) who reigned from 1736 to 1795. Built between 1771 and 1776, the Qianlong Garden was for the emperor's intended retirement and no expense was spared, as the finest artisans used the highest quality materials to create intricately embellished interior and exterior spaces. But the emperor never retired and the gardenrelatively untouched since imperial timesremains a virtual time capsule of 18th-century taste at its most extravagant.
Through the richly varied works on view, the exhibition conveys his desire both to integrate art, culture, and nature, and to magnify his achievements as a connoisseur, scholar, and devout Buddhist. In contrast to preceding Qing emperors, who had emphasized simple interiors in keeping with their nomadic Manchu heritage, the interiors of the Qianlongs retirement residence were lavish and ornate in the extreme. For the Qianlong Emperor, the garden was a metaphor for his well-ordered realm. The Manchu rulers ambition to unify all under heaven is evident in his effort to make the garden a microcosm of his empire, integrating various cultural influences within the confines of his palace walls.
Installed in the Metropolitans Galleries for Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, which surround a Ming-style garden court and a hall with outstanding examples of Chinese hardwood furniture, the exhibition will lead viewers through a series of thematic galleries, much as the actual garden was intended to lead visitors through a series of courtyards. These courtyards contained evocatively named halls and pavilions devoted to discrete themes, such as theatrical performances and trompe loeil illusions, Buddhist worship or meditation, the three friends of wintry weather (pine, plum, and bamboo), and exotic foreign environments and furnishings. Nearly every space featured a throneeach different in its design and materialsas demonstrated through the several examples in the exhibition.
Complementing The Emperors Private Paradise will be two installations drawn from the Metropolitans holdings of Qing court art. Extravagant Display: Chinese Art in the 18th and 19th Centuriesa rich selection of theatrical costumes, lacquers, ivories, jades, porcelains, metalwork, and other media largely created for use within the imperial precinctswill be presented in the Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for Chinese Decorative Arts (December 14, 2010 through May 1, 2011). Also, imperially commissioned paintings and calligraphies from the Qianlong era will be on display in an installation in The Frances Young Tang Gallery.
In New York, The Emperors Private Paradise is curated by Maxwell K. Hearn, Douglas Dillon Curator; and Extravagant Display is organized by Denise Leidy, Curator, and Joyce Denney, Assistant Curator, all of the Metropolitan Museums Department of Asian Art.
The Emperors Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City is currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum through January 9, 2011. After its showing at the Metropolitan, it will travel to Milwaukee Art Museum (June 11 September 11, 2011).