Drafted By: Edward Quan (Style Drama).

 Rare treasures from Beijing’s Palace Museum exhibition The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors now showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery gives us a rare glimpse of over five centuries of Chinese imperial history.

Many of the nearly 200 objects on display, including textiles, calligraphy, painting and amour have never been seen publicly before, not even in China. Offering visitors an once in a lifetime insight as to power, wealth and mystery behind the walls of the Forbidden City.

What I found fascinating about this exhibition was more than the beautiful historical treasures of the imperial families. On display is a large silk portrait of Emperor Quinlong in ceremonial robe clearly showing the influences of European master painter Jean Denis Attiret, a French Jesuit painter and missionary to China during the mid 1700’s.

Portrait of Emperor Qianlong in ceremonial robe.


  WWW.METROLIVINGZINE.COM NEWS IMAGE CREDIT Portrait of Emperor Qianlong in ceremonial robe. Anonymous. Qing dynasty, Qianlong period ink and color on silk. Copyright C. The Palace Museum

China’s emperors were the curators of art and culture during their reigns. Many skilled artist served the imperial family and spent their whole lives within the Forbidden City.

Jean Denis Attiret originally studied art in Rome and was a successful portrait painter as he did painting in the Cathedral of Avignon and the Sodality Chapel. He traveled to China in 1737 and we’re not sure if he ever converted anyone but he taught painting and was commissioned by the emperor. Soon afterwards, Emperor Qianling gave him the title “Painter to the Emperor.”

Empress’s ceremonial coat (Chaogua) Qing dynasty, Yongzheng period silk with gold thread. 


WWW.METROLIVINGZINE.COM NEWS IMAGE CREDIT Empress’s ceremonial coat (chaogua) Qing dynasty, Yongzheng period silk with gold thread. Copyright C. The Palace Museum

Over the centuries, Asian paintings had been two dimensional – solid line drawings. The portrait of Emperor Qianling at the Vancouver Art Gallery has shadows on his face and highlights in his eyes. Not typical of Asian style portraits when compared to other images from the same era within the exhibition.

Historians are unable to confirm if Jean Denis Attiret painted by this exact portrait, but today you will find his work part of the permanent collection at the Louvre Museum, Paris. The Forbidden City was built in Beijing in the opening decades of the fifteenth century and was the seat of power and residence for 24 emperors until the end of the imperial era in 1911.

This exhibition takes you through the ages of several generations of emperors with images of imperial power such as his throne, ceremonial dress, armor and weaponry. As emperors needed sons, you can learn about the private world of the empresses and the many concubines who lived in the inner court. Yellow is the color of the emperor, on view are exquisite silk robes with gold thread worn by the empresses, including a silk coat for the imperial family dog.

Bell Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 1736 – 1795 gilt bronze.


WWW.METROLIVINGZINE.COM NEWS IMAGE CREDIT Caption: Bell Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 1736 – 95 gilt bronze Copyright C. The Palace Museum[/caption]

The collection includes precious ceramics, bronzes and cloisonne that were crafted in China and sequestered in his private chamber. All widely expensive and finely crafted for the use and amusement of the imperial household.

As the emperors often received visitors from outside of China, they became collectors of brass clocks, scientific instruments and European exotic gifts from foreign dignitaries. Today, the Beijing Palace Museum has the largest antique clock collection in the world with three fine examples from their collection on display.

Chicken Cup Ming Dynasty Chenghua 1465 – 1487.


WWW.METROLIVINGZINE.COM NEWS IMAGE CREDIT: Chicken Cup Ming dynasty Chenghua mark and period 1465 – 87 porcelain Copyright C. The Palace Museum

The Forbidden City was build over 180 acres surrounded by 7.9 meter high wall and a 52 meter wide moat. You couldn’t enter or leave without the Emperor’s permission. Yet, when it came to art and culture. China’s emperors were receptive to European art influences making this a truly amazing exhibition you will want to see. The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors at the Vancouver Art Gallery runs until January 11, 2015.