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Emperors' Treasures

Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei
Jun 17 —
Sep 18, 2016

Exhibition Highlights

With more than 150 fascinating artworks on view, Emperors’ Treasures could easily absorb your whole day with its captivating offerings. Don’t have all day? The exhibition’s curators have identified a not-to- be-missed selection of the show’s prized pieces. If you’re pressed for time, check out these objects and you can put your fears of missing out to rest!

Director Jay Xu's Top 5
1) "Chicken Cup"
Cup with chicken design
Cup with chicken design. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Ming dynasty, reign of Emperor Chenghua (1465–1487). Porcelain with underglaze and overglaze multicolor decoration. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guci 005189 Cang-164-19-1. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.
In the mid-fifteenth century, an extraordinary type of Ming porcelain known as doucai ware emerged, as potters ventured from blue-and-white ware to the more complex underglazing and overglazing technique that produced multicolors. The depiction of a rooster, hen and chicks chasing insects represents a wish for nobility, wealth and good fortune. (The Chinese word for “chicken” is a pun on the word for “luck.”) By the 16th century, this type of porcelain commanded large sums in the art market, and its value has certainly not declined since. Just two years ago, a similar “chicken cup” was sold for over $36 million, setting the world auction record for any Chinese porcelain.

2) Grotesque Stones caligraphy
Grotesque Stones in the slender-gold style
Grotesque Stones in the slender-gold style, by Zhao Ji (Emperor Huizong, 1082–1135). Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), reign of Emperor Huizong (1100–1125). Album leaf, ink on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Gushu, 000242-2. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.
Emperor Huizong, who preferred artistic pursuits to governance, created his own “slender-gold” style of calligraphy, named for its delicate, elongated brushstrokes. This work describes an unusual rock; it looked, the emperor wrote, like a beast about to pounce, or a dragon about to soar. While they might seem odd subjects for poetry, rocks have long been admired in Chinese culture, as a kind of artwork carved by nature.

3) "Meat-shaped stone"
Meat-shaped stone
Meat-shaped stone. Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Stone: jasper; stand: gold. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guza 000178 Lü-413. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.
This jasper stone shaped like a piece of pork is one of the most popular works at the National Palace Museum, Taipei. A “smart carving” (qiaodiao), the object was made by deeply understanding the stone’s properties and using its natural hues and forms to an advantage. Tiny holes were drilled in the surface to replicate pores in the meat, and traces of pigment indicate that the top layer was artificially colored to a lustrous reddish brown, resembling pork belly marinated in soy sauce. With these techniques, this cold, hard piece of stone is utterly transformed into a tender, succulent piece of dongpo rou, a fatty pork dish.

4) Vase with revolving core
Vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design
Vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design, approx. 1744. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Porcelain with golden glaze, multicolor decoration, and appliquéd sculpture. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Guci 017214 Lie-408. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.
Chinese potters of the eighteenth century were some of the greatest the world has ever seen, and this piece boasts both artistic and technical mastery — it even has moving parts. The neck, upper body, lower body and inner vase components were each fired independently and, once finished, fitted together in such a way that the inner vase actually rotates when the neck is turned. The decoration is no less complex; it features eight trigrams (combinations of broken and unbroken lines symbolizing yin and yang energy, from the ancient classic text “I Ching”) and wish-granting wands in the shape of mushroom heads, a motif associated with longevity and heaven in Daoism.

5) Portrait of Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan as the first Yuan emperor Shizu
Kublai Khan as the first Yuan emperor, Shizu. Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). Album leaf, ink and color on silk. National Palace Museum, Taipei, 000324-00003. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.
This portrait of Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan and founder of the Yuan dynasty, captures a head position and calm facial expression typical of formal imperial portraits. However, the use of contouring and soft color washes to give the illusion of three-dimensionality marks a departure from traditional Chinese methods, which primarily relied on ink delineation. After conquering China and ending over 100 years of internal struggles, Kublai Khan became the first non- native ruler of all of China. In this portrait, his Mongol identity is evident in his plain robe, leather hat and three braided loops of hair hanging below each ear. This small bust portrait was likely produced by a court painter at the emperor’s decree.