Museum of East Asian Art
Imperial Splendour: Life and Art in the Forbidden City - an Exhibition Organized by the Museum of East Asian Art Cologne in Collaboration with The Palace Museum Beijing from 19 October 2012 to 20 January 2013
1. Themes and Topics Covered by the Exhibition - The Qing Dynasty in Focus
The Exhibition was the highlight of "China Year" in Germany, commemorating 25 years of city partnership between Beijing and Cologne as well as 40 years of diplomatic relations between the Peoples' Republic and Germany. The idea was to contribute to a deeper understanding of modern China by focusing on the 17th and 18th centuries in which China developed into a vast colonial empire under the Mandchu rulers. The objects were arranged in the following groups: 1. The son of heaven as universal ruler and the concept of Confucian state ritual. This group comprised a throne ensemble, ancestor portraits, ceremonial robes and depictions of state rituals such as "10.000 States pay reverence to the Emperor of China". Also included in this group were the Mandchurian ritual of hunting and its influence on military structure as well as the new development of the cult of military heroes. 2. The second group was focused on the different religious systems which were simultaneously supported by the Qing court, while Tibetan Buddhism was favoured as a political link to integrate the peoples at the fringes of the multi-ethnical realm. Also included in this group were objects related to the Jesuits, among them Adam Schall von Bell from Cologne, who received access to the court because of their scientific knowledge and skills in the arts and crafts. 3. The next group illustrated the role played by the emperors as scholars, poets, collectors, artists and fervent supporters of court art, pointing out the Mandchu emperors' admiration for Confucian values and traditions on the one hand, and their fascination with realistic Western portrait painting on the other, which served to illustrate and propagate their virtues in a stunningly realistic manner which was unprecedented in former dynasties.
2. Imperial Art Objects from the Collection of the Cologne Museum Integrated in the Palace Show - A Dialogue on Provenance
The exhibition also included objects from the collection of the Cologne museum which were published in the catalogue at the end by smaller images and with brief captions. The idea was to show these objects in their original context, in other words, to do justice to them, and to show them in a way that they normally cannot be seen in Cologne. Another aim was to start a dialogue on - and enter a new chapter - in the book of provenance history. The Cologne museum made a special pledge to be allowed to show these pieces together with the objects from Beijing. We handed in a list explaining the provenance of each individual object. After about three months the Ministry of Cultural Affairs agreed to the display of almost all of the pieces, but there was one Imperial jade seal which was not allowed to be shown. The reasons were not clearly stated but in my paper I will try to explain why I think this seal was refused.
3. The Question of Conservation - Varying Standards and Differing Ideas about how to Hang and Protect a Hanging Scroll in an Exhibition
While we were planning and discussing the exhibition architecture with our partners in Beijing, we realized that there exist many views on how to display objects safely. After the arrival of the exhibition team consisting of curators only, and not of professional restorers, we were confused because some of their views were influenced by Western ideas while other views were neither traditional, nor Western. It also seems worth noting that different from Western museums, the restorers of the Palace museum who are familiar with the craft of mounting paintings, do not seem to have much influence on the theory and practice of exhibiting objects. If there existed professional standards defined by those who are actually dealing with the practical art of restoration and conservation, it would probably be easier to find safe solutions.