The Qianlong Emperor, fourth of China’s Qing Dynasty, reigned from 1735 to 1796 and was the longest-serving ruler in China. He designed a garden complex in the Forbidden City for his eventual retirement. It was built between 1771 and 1776 and reflects the emperor’s broad cultural tastes and knowledge. The interiors of many of the 27 buildings in the Qianlong Garden are of extravagant design, using the finest materials and exceptional Chinese craftsmanship, and incorporating European artistic techniques such as trompe l’oeil. They number among the finest extant examples of eighteenth-century imperial interiors in China and are prized because their original design and materials have survived relatively unaltered from the time they were constructed over 240 years ago.
How We Helped
WMF began a partnership with the Palace Museum in 2002 to restore the Qianlong Gardens and to assist in training Chinese conservators to tackle the many complex challenges presented when working with the fragile historic interiors and their unusual mix of materials and artistic techniques. In 2008, WMF and the Palace Museum completed the conservation of the first pavilion, Juanqinzhai, or the Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service.
Juanqinzhai is noted for the unique silk trompe l'oeil paintings on the ceiling and walls of its private theater and its jewel box of a reception room containing unusually fine bamboo thread marquetry and inner bamboo skin carvings, as well as jade inlays and sophisticated textile decorations. WMF and the Palace Museum are continuing with the restoration of the remaining 26 structures at the Qianlong Garden. The entire project is expected to span more than a decade of collaboration.
Why It Matters
The Qianlong Garden in the Forbidden City was designed as a private, two-acre garden retreat with four courtyards, elaborate rockeries, and some 27 pavilions and structures. The garden was largely abandoned after the last emperor left the Forbidden City in 1924 and its buildings were never opened to the public.
The conservation agenda involves re-creating long-lost materials and reviving traditional craftsmanship that were used to construct the site but that are no longer readily available in modern China, and combining these traditions with modern scientific conservation techniques and approaches. It also includes a craftsmanship training program and development of new interpretation approaches for the site.
The site itself is of great historic, artistic, and cultural value, but it also represents an opportunity for the Palace Museum to expand its interpretation of imperial life in the context of the Forbidden City to the public.