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Current exhibition

Permanent Exhibition
Our Beloved Treasures: The Artistry of Ancient Trees
Artistic Verisimilitude
Ancient artists revered the spirits they believed were inherent in every aspect of nature. Drawing inspiration from the world around them, in their creations they represented its elements to beautiful effect, whether paintings of trees, stone carvings, jade sculptures, or crafted ceramics.
Among the artists’ myriad inspirations, animals stood out as a primary source. Animal-themed pieces hold a special place in the National Palace Museum’s vast collections, captivating visitors with their allure. The depictions range from simple, charming specimens to creations steeped in symbolism: horses to represent talent, roosters epitomizing vigor and sometimes seen as messengers of the sun god, ducks symbolizing gentle femininity, and rabbits standing for the Qianlong Emperor, who was born in the Year of the Rabbit.
This exhibition showcases the museum’s collection of exquisitely detailed and lifelike animal artworks. More than just an appreciation of the craftsmanship of ancient artists, it offers a deep dive into the narratives behind the pieces, enriching our understanding of classical culture.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date Permanent Exhibition
  • Location 3F S302
Qing dynasty
Meat-shaped Stone
The Meat-shaped Stone, a piece of jasper, is one of the National Palace Museum's most popular artifacts. It was carved by an unnamed craftsman of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Take a closer look, the rock's naturally formed intricate layers are presented before your eyes. The lively and intricate marriage between natural and artificial parts can be seen from the original rock at bottom to the dyed pork skin with man-made pores on top. The ingenuity of its maker turned a piece of lifeless rock into a piece of tender and juicy stewed Donpo pork, made famous by Su Dongpo (1037-1101), one of the greatest Chinese writers. The Meat-shaped Stone is a speechless statement of both Chinese people's love of beautiful stones and its gourmet culture. No wonder Su once praised, "The world is full of preciousness for our gastronomic enjoyment."
Are you feeling hungry after seeing this stone?
Qing dynasty
One Hundred Horses, Giuseppe Castiglione, scroll
Giuseppe Castiglione (1688–1766), a Jesuit missionary from Milan, Italy, arrived in Qing China in 1715. He served as a court painter under the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong Emperors. Created in 1728, this scroll captures pastoral life amid expansive landscapes. The consistent horizon and scaled objects provide a seamless spatial experience. With chiaroscuro for depth and contour lines for definition, the work melds Chinese and Western artistic styles.
Qianlong period, Qing dynasty, 1767, 1770
Ivory miniature boat with human figures in a jade rabbit case
Housed within a box carved from Xinjiang's distinct Hetian white jade is a detailed ivory boat. The jade rabbit, with a sheen as smooth and clear as cream, is artfully fashioned in a crouching pose. Qing court records from 1767 reveal that the Qianlong Emperor commissioned this unique jade rabbit design. Later that same year, a supplementary design for a boat was sought. This four-tiered ivory vessel, intricately pieced together from ivory segments, features oars, rudder, corridors, arches, railings, and decks. The meticulously crafted doors and lattices easily swing open and shut. The main deck, populated by nine figures, shows people rowing, brewing tea, savoring the taste, and chatting casually. The floral vase and tea set on the table are also meticulously detailed.
The boat’s creation took roughly three years, culminating in 1770. When finished, it was paired with the jade rabbit box for presentation. The emperor ordered this splendid creation to grace the Annual Reunion Table during festivities. The imperial dinner that followed took place on New Year’s Eve, marking both the Year of the Rabbit and the zodiac year of the Qianlong Emperor, hinting at the deeper symbolism of this jade rabbit and boat ensemble.
Late 17th to 18th century
Celadon Rooster Incense Burner
  • Imari, Japan
A stately rooster, poised in a crouch, features wings that brush the ground and a raised tail. Turning its stretched neck, it appears to be mid-crow. This incense burner consists of the rooster body and a base which holds the incense, allowing fragrance to emanate from the beak and crest. Such rooster-themed burners were particularly prominent in late 17th- to 18th-century Imari works in Japan.
In Japanese mythology, Sun Goddess Amaterasu, representing the aspects of the sun, agriculture, and weaving, secluded herself in a cave in anger at her malicious brother Susanoo, blanketing the world in darkness. To lure her back, deities performed at the cave’s entrance and called forth the rooster, her divine messenger, hoping its calls would once again usher forth the dawn’s light.
Qing dynasty, 18th century
Carved Wooden Deer with Reishi Mushroom
This statue shows a deer, its mouth holding a reishi mushroom, crafted from several wooden sections. Intricate carvings form the head, antlers, ears, tail, and limbs, while the body, pieced together from burl wood, harnesses the natural grain to simulate the texture of fur. The deer stands on a base made from burl wood, mimicking rocky terrain. Hints of vermilion lacquer accentuate parts of the deer, with the overall design highlighting its elegant agility amid the rocks.
In Chinese, the word for “deer” sounds like that for “prosperity”, and the reishi mushroom, evoking a ruyi scepter, is thought to bestow longevity. This pairing often conveys themes of abundant prosperity and longevity or an easy path and auspicious outcome.
Ming dynasty
Gilded Duck Incense Burner
This elegant gilded duck incense burner features a gently open bill, a gracefully craned neck, detailed wings tucked inward, and a foot poised as if in motion. Radiating confident pride, it is designed in two parts: the body, which holds incense, and the lid. As the incense burns, smoke wafts through the duck’s mouth.
Such duck burners were cherished items in Tang dynasty ladies’ boudoirs. Inspired by “Lament of Spring” by poet Dai Shulun (732–789), the duck burner became a symbol of the intense emotions felt after a lover’s departure. The act of igniting the incense signified depth of feeling, making this burner a poignant emotional outlet for Tang women. In the Ming Dynasty, the use of duck burner became more popular in the women's boudoir.
Qing dynasty, 17th–18th century
Ivory Aquatic Life Clam-Shaped Dish
This elliptical dish, shaped like a clam and carved from solid ivory, encases a detailed aquatic realm. A snail adheres to the side, while within water scorpions, snails, oysters, clams, crabs, and goldfish nestle delicately among aquatic plants. After careful observation, the artisan has colored these creatures in vivid hues of blue, red, green, brown, orange, and gold, giving them a lifelike, glistening sheen. This masterful craftsmanship attests to exceptional attention to detail.