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Past exhibition

Special Exhibition
Curio Boxes of Qianlong Emperor
The concept of “curio box” can be perceived as the combination of assorted items, and thus this exhibition presents such sets accomplished by Qianlong emperor of the Qing dynasty. The deed of gathering objects into the assembled unit was not exclusive to the emperors, but considering the collections of the National Palace Museum majorly came from the Qing palace, which suggests that all artefacts are imprinted with trace of connoisseurship by generations of emperors. Meanwhile, the Archive of the Imperial Workshops gives the indication that most of the reassembling and formation of curio boxes were achieved during the Qianlong reign(1736-1795). Therefore, the exhibition concentrates on exploring how Qianlong emperor took the existed arrangements of collection as his foundation, and further elevated the storage and display into the even more organized order with his creativity.

    Take the storage method and the characteristic of objects into consideration; the exhibition is divided into three sections. The first section “Arrangement of Curios” exhibits collections of Guan ware porcelain formed and united during the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735), and the material-orientated collections of bronze wares and porcelains that were packed and named under the imperial orders of Qianlong emperor. The second section, “Joy Revealed from the Box” is mainly focus on the display of seven different curio boxes to reveal the authentic storage spaces inside the box, and to make people realize that the origins of emperor’s treasures by far exceeding the limitation of time and space. Additionally, the curio boxes exclusively designed with intricate placements of storage spaces and hidden drawers, undeniably deliver the art of organization that second to none. The final section, “Display of Collected Treasures” attempts to recreate two sets of curios displayed at the Hall of Mental Cultivation, Forbidden City, based on two archival lists of antiquities, and aims to explain the origin and purpose of such assemblages done by the Qing court.

 Arrangement of Curios

    The arrangement of curios includes two aspects: to gather and to categorize. The archive of Qing court indicates that assembling artifacts into united set, to meet the purpose of display or storage inside a case, had appeared in the time of Kangxi emperor (1662-1722). It was also frequent to have imperial orders on manufacturing assorted boxes to collect curios in the Yongzheng reign. As for the beginning of categorizing and packing based on the materials, although the actual records cannot be found from exited documents, but the physical objects provide the trace of fact that this type of arrangements had emerged in the 18th century, during the era of Yongzheng and Qianlong. In contrast to the emperors Kangxi and Yongzheng, the emperor Qianlong took a step further and expressed his passion for literature. Not only had he appraised the supreme collection of treasures with literary classics, but also researched into history enthusiastically to demonstrate his comprehensive understanding of the past and the present, and ability to identify artifacts. Premises on the concept of praising the old, on one hand he cooperates the contemporary idea of cultural preservation to reassemble inherited artifacts into various units. On the other hand, with the efforts of gathering curios in bronze and porcelain, and with illustrated catalogues attached, to fully disclose the aesthetic interest of the connoisseur.

 Joy Revealed from the Box

    The curio box was called “Hundred-item (baishijian)” in the Qing court’s archive, but now we are more familiar with the name “Curio Box (duobaoge)”.

    This fascinating display of collecting assorted curios inside boxes that enables numerous objects to be placed within a limited space, which was encouraged by intricate and thoughtful design and production of the cases. The seven exhibited “Hundred-item (baishijian)” pieces from the Qianlong reign are selected to present curio boxes in different appearances, including box, chest, cabinet, or even portable desk. These exhibits show the decisions made on the selection and production of the outer box, the coordination of materials and designs, and also inner spaces modified according to the outer appearances. The craftsmen worked with the space magically to store curios in various materials and shapes inside a fixed dimension. The made-to-measure placements for each curio were divided specifically, so to fill every inch of the inner space. Not to mention the application of stands, drawers and hidden drawers in sizes, and storage of individual inner cases. The purpose exceeds the need for secure storage, but further provides the joy of seeking treasures. The process of entering the overlapping spaces, and finding delicate curios one piece after another with amazement and laughter, gives the most pleasurable moments of admiring the “Hundred-item (baishijian)”. Furthermore, the experience also leads to ultimate respects to those talented makers with impeccable craftsmanship.

Display of Collected Treasures

    In this sector, we attempt to recreate two sets of curios shelves. Firstly, according to the Inventory of Objects in the Former Qing Palace, which is done by the Committee for the Disposition of Qing Palace; it reveals that both exhibited sets were registered under the category of “Curio Box (duobaoge)”. Additionally, in corresponding to the inventory list of Jiaqing reign (1802), it is known that one set was originally stored on the curios shelf located in the Eastern Warmth Chamber, front court of the Hall of Mental Cultivation, and the other was placed on the left wall of the Hall of Mental Cultivation’s rear court.

    Evidences are given to trace Qianlong emperor’s achievements on the arrangements, categorizations, and storage methods of all sorts of curios, contemporary objects, and exotic goods in the Qing court. Due to the time difference of each article’s appearing, it had contributed to the various styles that existed among the storage, packaging, and combination, which were attained under Qianlong’s imperial orders. Through the interpretation of the exhibition, the understanding can be certainly reached that the curio boxes stand for a means to store and to place artefacts with organized displays. Especially because of the Hall of Mental Cultivation was the venue where Qianlong emperor conducted the governmental affairs, enjoyed daily life and had leisure activities. As the consequence, artefacts located there, not only had they marked with his connoisseurship, some even were treasures, which had been traced and followed since hundreds of years ago.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date 2019-12-25~2022-02-20
  • Location 2F S201