Art and Artifacts of the Forbidden City


I continue to distill some of the joys of my Dallas trip. I see everything quickly, but it often takes a long time for me to process everything I have seen. I've written a short bit about some of the appalling nonsense one can indulge in at the Dallas Museum of Art, let me now indulge in some high praise for some of the truly wonderful things. Let me start with the special exhibit that I encourage everyone to get down and see.

The exhibition is called "Splendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong." It runs in Dallas through 28 May, so you have a little over a month to get there and see it.

In my wayward youth I acquired a degree in English Literature with a double minor. Part of that double minor was in East Asian History. My particular emphasis was on Japan, but I also favored Song and Tang dynasty China (I also learned before the present Pinyin system of transliteration, which makes no sense to me whatsoever, I always have to run to my conversion chart to see if what I knew as Sung is Song or something else). I never thought much of the Qing dynasty--a bunch of post-Ming upstarts--not even Chinese ruling the glorious empire. It is in this dynasty--the Manchu dynasty that the stereotypical queue worn by the Chinese was developed as a sign of bondage and subservience to the foreign invaders.

However, this exhibition showed how the Manchus attempt to assimilate what was great in Chinese culture and improve upon it. I have seen a great many galleries of Asian art, but I have seen few things as truly splendid as some of those on display in Dallas.

The paintings are rich in color--far richer than the mostly wan and pale (but still lovely works) of Earlier Chinese eras. I thought at first that the paleness might have been an artifact of age, but indeed, it seems that the early Chinese aesthetic was based on these very subtle differences in shade. The Qing paintings, on the other hand, remind me more of Japanese paintings--particularly those of the Ukiyo-e school--vibrant colors and a great deal of action. Examples include a painting of the Emperor on a tiger hunt and some scenes of court life that are more reminiscent of the Japanese High Court paintings than those of China.

Also gorgeous are items such as the intricately carved and decorated Double Dragon throne.

While the Manchus were foreign invaders, they rapidly adapted Chinese customs. The Emperor Qianlong had a great number of wives and there was a ranking system among the wives that hearkens back to the Confucian rules for court Etiquette and societal ordering--The Book of Li or Rites, which intricately prescribes the number, style, and type of jade beads a person of a given rank might wear and the degree of subservience that must be shown depending on the difference in ranks of the people meeting. In an exhibit made up to show a dining room, we see three sets of vessels and utensils--one for the Emperor, one for a wife of the fourth rank and one for a wife of the fifth rank.

Speaking of jade beads, there are a number of really spectacular Jade sculptures that reveal a great deal about Chinese are and jade-work and about the limitations of the medium. The emperor Qianlong ordered a sculpture that is the second largest sculpture ever made from a single piece of jade.

Also fascinating are the intricately worked fabric and clothing. Some of the stitching and the designs are unbelievable and beautiful, and of course some of these clothes were worked in real gold thread.

One of the most poignant exhibits shows a large throne with a small stele on it. The stele is said to capture the spirit of Qianlong still reigning.

If you live in Dallas, and particularly if you have children, you owe it to yourself and your family to go and enjoy this exhibition. The cost includes the price of a recorded guided tour (personally, I hate those things, but a lot of people really seem to get a lot more out of their visits by using them), which is a real bargain considering that most such exhibitions I have been to require a separate fee for the recorded tour. I can heartily recommend this as one of the very best exhibits of Chinese art and artifacts that I have seen outside of museums entirely dedicated to Asian antiquities. Do yourself a favor and take it in if you have the opportunity--and don't forget the little ones. The earlier one starts an appreciation for the great achievements of art and culture, the more likely it is that they will become a permanent and enriching part of any person's life.

Bookmark and Share



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 18, 2005 7:40 AM.

I Know My Redeemer Lives was the previous entry in this blog.

Two By Herbert is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll