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'Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing' opens in Richmond
Forbidden City, Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing.

RICHMOND, VA.- VMFA is the first art museum in the United States to establish an extensive collaborative project with the Palace Museum in Beijing. The two museums are in the midst of a series of projects between 2010 and 2016 that include exhibition exchanges and staff site visits in the areas of administration, curatorial, conservation, education, and security.

Key to this historic collaboration will be the exchange of treasures exhibitions in 2014 and 2016. Exclusive to VMFA, Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing is on view October 18, 2014 – January 11, 2015. In May 2016, VMFA will be the first museum in the United States to exhibit works from its permanent collection at the Palace Museum when its world-renowned Fabergé collection will travel to Beijing and be exhibited in the historic Meridian Gate.

In making the announcement, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said, “Our administration places a high priority on fostering further business investment and export trade relations with China and certainly knowledge through cultural exchanges will only serve to further solidify those relationships. After taking office, I was pleased to learn that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts shares these same values and had already invested more than five years of planning and raising funds for this extraordinary exhibition. These efforts will serve the entire Commonwealth in many direct and indirect ways.”

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Director Alex Nyerges said: “This project is a true relationship between our museums and reflects the vitality of engagement with China throughout Virginia from cultural and economic development initiatives. The exhibition is exceptional because it features nearly 50 paintings by court officials and court artists, including magnificent silk paintings depicting important historic events in monumental scale. Virginia is a leader in many ways, and we are honored to provide a dimensional focus on this important culture, including a catalogue written by U.S. and Chinese scholars. We are equally pleased to share our Fabergé collection with the people of China.”

Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing presents nearly 200 works of art drawn from the collection of the Palace Museum. Featured works include paintings, sculptures, costumes, furniture, gold and silver, jade, lacquer, and other decorative arts. These artworks represent the imperial collection from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties with a focus on the mid-Qing dynasty. In addition, the exhibition features a number of works drawn from VMFA’s collection. Forbidden City addresses how Qing rulers incorporated their Manchu nomadic traditions, adopted cultural elements from ethnic groups, and endeavored to create a diverse government and maintain societal harmony.

Based on the layout of the Forbidden City, the exhibition is organized into four sections:

I. Rituals of the Qing Court features 90 objects including paintings depicting historic events and life-size horses, ritual musical instruments, and a setting of throne room furniture. The exhibition addresses the function of the outer court, and the important roles of various rituals.

II. Court Arts in the Inner Court illustrates about 60 artworks, including portraits of emperors and empresses, furniture, and decorative objects. The exhibition explores how the prestige of the emperors, cultural exchange, and trade with the West influenced the distinctive art forms and styles developed by imperial workshops.

III. Court Paintings offers 20 court paintings that depict animals, figures in landscapes, and botanical scenes. The exhibition explores symbolism in these works and addresses how Qing rulers reinstituted court painters in the 18th century, in keeping with their Ming predecessors.

IV. Religion in the Palace features 30 works ranging from sculpture and thangkas to sutras, pagodas, and offerings. The exhibition reveals the Buddhist and Daoist activities in the palace and provides a glimpse into spiritual life in the inner court.

The exhibition offers a broad perspective of imperial China through evocative gallery design, graphic materials, architectural models, and video. Dramatic images of the palace and amazing architectural scale will take visitors on a simulated journey into the buildings and grounds, once forbidden to the general public. A number of interior designs modeled after the inner quarters of the palace will provide a unique experience for visitors. VMFA is the first American museum to use 3D printing technology to create a scaled model of the Forbidden City. One model is on display in the exhibition and another will be output during the exhibition in VMFA’s Atrium.

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