According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday, Virginia's ties with our trade partner China were strengthened with the announcement earlier that the Richmond Ballet will be performing in Beijing in 2015. But the news doesn't end with just that story. China will be coming to Virginia in October, in a very special way.
It was announced today that in October an exhibition of Chinese art will be opening at the prestigious Virginia Museum of Fine Art, located in Richmond. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Katherine Calos, “Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing will be the most important and largest international travel exhibition ever assembled” by the VMFA. The show will run from Oct. 18 to Jan. 11.
If the response from the public and the nation over the VMFA's Picasso and Chihuly exhibits are any indication, the Forbidden City exhibit will rank right up there or even surpass them in popularity. And in 2016, the VMFA's fabulous Faberge collection, given to the museum by Lillian Thomas Pratt, and featuring over 150 jeweled objects by Peter Carl Faberge and other Russian craftsmen will be making a trip to Beijing.
Let's take an armchair tour of the Palace Museum in Beijing China, and view some of the treasures making the trip to Virginia in October.
The Forbidden City: Palace Museum
Located in the center of Beijing, China, the Forbidden City, now the Palace Museum of Beijing, was the Imperial Palace of emperors from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. For 5,000 years, the Forbidden City was the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government. Covering 180 acres and with 980 buildings, the complex has influenced architectural and cultural developments in East Asia and other parts of the world.
When people around the world see photographs of the Imperial complex, they are able to readily identify it because it is so famous. It was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, and is considered to have the largest preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. Since 1924, the Forbidden City has been under the care of the Palace Museum. The collection includes thousands of artifacts and artwork covering the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Interior view of Forbidden City
When a visitor enters the Meridian Gate, they come upon the gate of Supreme harmony. Behind this gate is the Hall of Supreme Harmony Square. A three-tiered white marble terrace rises from this square. On top a visitor finds three halls, the main focus of the palace complex. From the south, these are the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest, and was used by the emperor only for special, ceremonial occasions, like coronations or imperial weddings. The Hall of Central Harmony, shown here, was smaller, and much more square in shape. The throne, and there was a throne in all three halls, is also much smaller and less elaborate. This hall was used by the emperor to prepare, as well as to relax and rest before ceremonies.
Timepieces in the Imperial collection
When it comes to a large collection, the Palace Museum has one of the largest collections of timepieces in the world. The collection of over 1,000 clocks and chronometers covers most of the 18th and 19th centuries, and they are exquisite. There are both Chinese and foreign-made pieces, with the Chinese timepieces coming from the palace's own workshops, Guangzhou (Canton) and Suzhou (Suchow).
Foreign timepieces in the collection came from Britain, Japan, France, Switzerland and the United States, with the majority of the foreign pieces coming from the British. England's first direct contact with China occurred on June 7, 1637, when four armed ships under Captain John Wendell, arrive at Macao in a failed attempt to open trade between England and China. But in the years that followed the first unsuccessful attempt at trade, relationships were established, and apparently, clocks were an interesting gift for all concerned. Some of the timepieces are really beautiful.
Clothing: Gowns and costumes
Chinese clothing during the dynastic era was generally referred to as hanfu. There were many variations, from the traditional dress of academics and members of the imperial court, to the dress of the populous which often was dependent on one's status. But interestingly, each social class had its own fashion sense. Most Chinese men wore basic black cotton shoes, with the wealthier men inserting leather insets inside their colorful silk shoes, or even going so far as to wear tough, rigid black leather shoes.
During the Qing dynasty, Manchu clothing styles were required to be worn by all noblemen and court officials. Manchu hairstyles, or the queue were required of the populous or the holdout faced execution. Another distinctive way of letting others know your status was the use of different colored hat knobs. There were twelve different hat knobs representing the nine distinctive ranks of the civil or military positions at that time.
Most interesting was the Mandarin square. It was a large embroidered badge sewn onto the front of the outer coat of court officials. The badge was quite detailed, with either a bird or animal design indicating one's rank.
Ceramics, Porcelain and Jade pieces
The Palace Museum has over 340,000 pieces of ceramics and porcelain and about 30,000 pieces of jade ware. The porcelain collection includes many pieces from the Tang and Sung dynasties, as well as many pieces commissioned by the emperors themselves. Chinese ceramics are probably one of the most significant forms of Chinese art. It may seem strange to us, but because of raw materials in China being readily available for making ceramics, they were produced on a vast scale, and very few individual artisans have ever been recorded. Porcelain, or ceramic works are so identified with China, that today, around the world, most fine dishware and other products are still called "China."
Jade has played an important role in China's history, and the Palace Museum has many pieces dating back to the early Neolithic period, or what is now known of as the New Stone Age (10,200 BC to between 4,500 and 2,000 BC. The majority of the jade collection is from the imperial, or Ming and Qing dynasty. The picture to the left is a jade Chinese cabbage. It looks so real, one could pick it up and start chopping away. Having grown bok choy myself, the author was suddenly ready for some good stir-fry vegetables after finding this picture.
The Palace Museum has around 50,000 paintings and scrolls in its collection, including the scroll shown on the right, entitled Bathing Horses by Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322). There are 400 pieces of artwork that date from before the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), and is the largest such collection in China.
With the major part of the collection based on the Ming and Qing dynasties, and the paintings often being of a personal interest to many of the emperors, it has become one of the most important collections in Chinese history. Ming dynasty artwork was heavily influenced by the earlier paintings of the Song and Yuan dynasties, although more color was used with Ming dynasty painters. Calligraphy began to be incorporated into paintings, and by the end of the dynasty, many artists had become very well known.
Qing dynasty paintings are a tale in themselves. At the start of this dynastic period in 1644, the Manchu rulers had to figure out a way to appease and govern the far reaches of the empire. They did this by taking on the trappings of the cultured elite, and it seemed to work. By the time Yongzheng came to be ruler, China was at peace, and there was great prosperity across the land.
Early Qing dynasty paintings reflected political protest of the Manchu rulers, or even loyalty to the fallen Ming dynasty. This period also saw the advent of a regional style in painting develop, and the Palace Museum has many of these regional pieces in the museum's collection.
The green-glazed pottery dog seen on the left is an example of pottery from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D). The little fellow looks almost real enough to bark. This piece is part of a large number of artifacts in the Palace Museums collection of items used by members of the family and the imperial court in their daily lives. Perhaps the little dog belonged to a child, or was a favored piece belonging to one of the emperor's many wives.
Included in the collection of artifacts are items used in various ceremonies or in different governmental functions. Visitors can view porcelain bowls and dishes, wine bottles and weights used for measurements. There are Tang dynasty glazed lamp stands and kiln pots, as well as beautiful waist drums. There is so much to see at the Palace Museum that visitors can arrange to take a full day's tour, or a shorter half-day tour. But with 180 acres to explore, it would be better to spread it out over two days if someone wanted to see everything.