Exhibition | A Golden Age of China: Qianlong Emperor, 1736–1795

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 11, 2015


Jin Tingbiao, Chinese active (c. 1750–68), and Giuseppe Castiglione (attributed to), Italian 1688–1766, worked in China 1714–66, The Qianlong Emperor Enjoying the Pleasures of Life, poem inscribed by Qianlong Emperor in the spring of 1763, coloured inks on silk, 168 x 320 cm (The Palace Museum, Beijing, Gu5278)

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From the press release (26 March 2015) for the exhibition:

A Golden Age of China: Qianlong Emperor, 1736–1795
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 27 March — 21 June 2015

Hidden treasures from Beijing’s Palace Museum in the Forbidden City have come to Melbourne for the first time, in an Australian exclusive exhibition. A Golden Age of China: Qianlong Emperor, 1736–1795 tells the story of China’s foremost art collector Qianlong Emperor, one of China’s most successful rulers, fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) and longest living emperor in Chinese history.

This exhibition provides an unprecedented opportunity to explore a rich concentration of more than 120 works from the Palace Museum’s art collection, which is built on the imperial collection of the Ming and Qing dynasties and holds some of China’s most rare and valuable works of art in its collection. . . .

Giuseppe Castiglione,Portrait of Qianlong Emperor in Ceremonial Court Robe, 1736, coloured inks on silk, 238.5 x 179.2 cm (image and sheet) The Palace Museum, Beijing (Gu6464)

Giuseppe Castiglione, Portrait of Qianlong Emperor in Ceremonial Court Robe, 1736, coloured inks on silk, 239 x 179 cm (The Palace Museum, Beijing, Gu6464)

The Qianlong Emperor’s long 60-year reign (1736–1795) was a particularly fascinating time in China’s history. Under his rule, China was the wealthiest and most populous nation in the world. Qianlong’s ability to preserve and foster his Manchu warrior-huntsman traditions whilst adopting the Confucian principles of political and cultural leadership, resulted in the successful governing of 150 million Chinese people.

It was his ability to adopt Chinese ways, yet honour his Manchu traditions that made him one of the most successful emperors of the Qing dynasty. He studied Chinese painting, loved to paint, and particularly loved to practice calligraphy. He was a passionate poet and essayist, and over 40,000 poems and 1300 pieces of prose are recorded in his collected writings. Qianlong wrote more poetry in his lifetime than all the poets in the Tang dynasty (618–906) combined, a dynasty known for its golden age of poetry. Aside from his own art practice, Qianlong combined his passion for collecting art with his role as preserver and restorer of Chinese cultural heritage. He also embraced the arts of other cultures: European, Japanese and Indian. Giuseppe Castiglione, an Italian Jesuit brother, exerted a great deal of influence over the arts in the court
academy of the Qianlong Emperor.

The exhibition puts the spotlight on Qianlong’s reign and art in five separate sections: Manchu Emperor, Son of Heaven, Imperial art under the Emperor’s patronage, Imperial art of religion and Chinese scholar, art connoisseur and collector. Visitors can enjoy a lavish display of paintings on silk and paper, silk court robes, precious-stone inlayed objet d’art and portraits of the Qianlong Emperor, Empress and imperial concubines; paintings of hunting scenes, court ceremonies and the private life of the Qianlong Emperor; and paintings of the Emperor as scholar and art collector. The exhibition also presents paintings and calligraphy by the Emperor himself as well as classical paintings in his collection. The exhibition includes a sumptuous display of ceremonial weapons of swords, bows and arrows, a chair made of antlers’ horns, silk court robes and ceremonial hats, amongst other ceremonial and palace treasures.

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