Vancouver Art Gallery, Forbidden City, Review: The Glamorous and The Spectacular

Written by: Jasmine Huang

Edited by: Megan Wedge

The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors @ Vancouver Art Gallery. October 18, 2014 – January 11, 2015

The remarkably expensive artifacts from the Palace Museum are on show in this new exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Installation view of the "Entering" section, 2014. Photograph. (Ramesey)

Installation view of the “Entering” section, 2014. Photograph. (Ramesey)

In case you have never visited the Forbidden City of Beijing, home to numerous emperors of China, the Vancouver Art Gallery is presenting you with the beautiful artifacts from the Imperial Palace. This exhibition will alternate your taste for Chinese cultural and historical arts. The time frame of the show is mainly focused on the Period of Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, and Xuantong of Qing Dynasty.

The Forbidden City, now known as the Palace Museum, has been the iconic symbol of power, glory, and wealth. The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors showcases objects selected from the vast collections of Palace Museum. These selections are the exquisite examples from a various period of dynasties. This exhibition outlines the rise and fall of a dynasty’s revolutionary.

This exhibition is quite different from the ordinary white gallery space that we recognized. The walls are painted with red, royal blue, and gold color. These colors set the imperial atmosphere for the show. Like a museum arrangement, the physical orientation and layout of each individual artifact is safely protected by the oversize prefabricated glass-showcase. With security guards every five steps, the preciousness of each piece is absolutely alerted.

As you tour around this exhibition, locates on the entire first floor, you will find nine sections that shape the life of the imperial family. These sections include Entering, Reigning, Warring, Symbols, Lineage, Texting, Consuming, Collecting, and Farewell My Emperor. Each sections compose of varies artifacts, which include paintings, drawings, personal adornments, composition of poetry, political documents and many more. The vast consumptions of precious material and labor show the wealth and power of the emperor.

The immense collections are made with ceramics, bronzes, and cloisonné. They were produced by emperor’s handicraftsman. Many of these “artists” were nameless. It was an honor for the anonymous court servants to serve the imperial family. And only the best handicraftsman could have such an honor. The emperor owns everything on land, even the citizens. The emperor explicitly claimed rights to craftsman’s skills and their performance. Nobody can take over emperor’s fame in any fashion. The handicraftsman  had very little or no status in Chinese ancient society. They received no rights and were unable to protect their skills. Perhaps, one could think, this was one of the factors that lead an empire to fall. Not only the land generated prosperity, the craftsman’s hand was also necessary.

More often than not, the handicraftsmen put marks on their products. However, it was just a way of organizing production. The mark was to guarantee quality. And, when needed, the emperor could execute punishments to the craftsmen who did not meet the imperial standard. They suffered considerably and were put under pressure.

In Warring, the painting, Emperor’s Qianlong Shooting a Deer, 1736-95, illustrated the glory of the Emperor Qianlong. It was an ink on silk portrait by an anonymous court painter.”Hunting was politically and militarily significant (Dunnell, 67).” These actions demonstrated the power and glory of the emperor. With no credits received, the painter became the material of the illustration. He became the stepping-stone for the emperor to present his imperial legacy to the world. With a ready-to-shoot posture, Emperor Qianlong displayed bravery and kingly virtue.

Out of the many furniture and accessory, one of which seems to grab the most attention. Imperial Dog’s Outfit, 1875-1908, was displayed in the Consuming section of the exhibition. This delicately handmade clothing for the Empress Dowager Cixi’s dog, by an anonymous tailor, demonstrates the wasteful use of wealth and the over-pursuit of enjoyment. The dog’s clothing was fabricated with silk, a type of fabric that was considered as luxurious material. “The Forbidden City had marble kennels lined with silk cushions for the dogs to sleep in. The animals got the highest grade rice and meat for their meals, and and teams of eunuchs to look after and bathe them (Szczepanski).” Many low class citizens and servant could not afford this disbursement. This proved the wealth and prosperity of the imperial family. It was about showing the glamorous.

If you are looking for an art museum, The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors would be a miniature. However, this is a show that you will never forget. With the well-selected collections from the Beijing’s Palace Museum, you will have the impression of the supreme power of the emperor. Produced under the imperial standard, the luxurious artifacts demonstrate wealth, art, and power. These will guide you through with an extraordinary visual experience.


Millward, James A. New Qing Imperial History: The Making of Inner Asian Empire

at Qing Chengde. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Ramsey, Kristin. Installation View of the “Entering” Section. 2014. “The Forbidden

City” at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver. Montecristo Magazine. Web.

15 Nov. 2014.

Szczepanski, Kallie. “History of the Pekingese Dog.” About. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov.


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