Sunday, October 24, 2010

In the Emperor's Private Paradise of the Forbidden City

The COG and I went to an exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum on Friday. It was, frankly,  incredible.  In the 18th century, the Emperor Qianlong, made himself a secluded and luxurious private garden to serve as his retirement home.   He was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world and a devout Buddhist. (Tho' the COG expressed doubts that these two things are compatible.) At any rate, he had incredible taste and wealth and this garden is a jewel.

The Garden of Tranquility and Longevity, as it's called, is a walled garden with 12 or 15 buildings set on several acres in one corner of the Forbidden City. It is not opened to the public, nor will it ever be.  The exterior has been maintained, but the interiors were neglected since the 'People' acquired it in 1924.   A couple of years ago the Chinese government began restoration with funds from the World Monument Fund.
The picture above is a room from a theatre / party / gathering place in the garden.  The building is called 'The Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service', which I think would be a fantastic name for our house, too. Though our house does not have exquisite carved wood screens or hand painted murals. The mural on the ceiling is painted to look like wisteria is hanging down from an arbor. Probably quite a nice effect in the cold winter of Northern China.

The stuff in this exhibit will not appear anywhere else outside of China and it's breathtaking. Not just pieces of furniture, but wall murals and architectural elements - doorways etc. The mural above shows the use of perspective, learned from Western artists. The Emperor was very fond of little jokes like this - the doorway framing it is real - wood inlaid with something precious- making the mural look as if there's a room beyond with family members in it.

One of the interesting things about the exhibit were little videos about how the conservation and restoration were done etc. But everything else was interesting, too. Both the pictures are from the web, btw.


Vivi said...

I am a little unclear -- did they move the whole garden? or one building? or pieces of walls? or photos of walls? to the Peabody-Essex museum? I know they've already moved a house (I love that house/exhibit), so that's why I wonder what this exhibit actually was of.

And to call a 12-15 building complex with, presumably, land in-between the buildings, a "garden" sounds peculiarly exotic and rather Chinese, indeed.

The Bride said...

They moved just some stuff from the various buildings. Most of it is furniture and painted backdrops displayed as if in situ, but there are some doors and some large screens and other structures. I think Chinese construction methods lend themselves to this. The platform in that one picture is an example- it's like a huge canopied bed, but was a platform for sitting on.

That mural of the family is a huge thing painted on silk. The figures are life-sized.

The Bride said...

Oh, and it's a garden in the sense of being a space devoted to contemplation and leisure. The outdoor space is as created and artificial as the indoor space. And the exhibit does include some rocks and other things that were outdoor furnishings.

The whole thing is walled. You enter through the Gate of Spreading Auspiciousness.

That is, you don't, nor do I, but those who are allowed to enter, do so through The Gate etc.