The Qianlong emperor was endowed with great intelligence and an acute longing for antiquity, also learning from the diversity of Manchu, Chinese, Tibetan, and Mongolian cultures since childhood. The rich and vast imperial collections at his disposal further helped cultivate a deep understanding of the heritage he inherited, which likewise strongly influenced his appreciation for the arts. He simultaneously took on multiple roles, not only being a poet and writer, but also as a collector, connoisseur, artist, and garden designer, allowing him to carry out his grand vision. This special exhibition focuses on the taste in art of the Qianlong emperor, with his collection, grading and appreciation, and organization and cataloguing of artworks in his possession, as well as leading the design of objects in various media, providing a concrete and systematic expression. To fully present these facets, the exhibit not only includes a display of select artifacts from the National Palace Museum collection, but also a loan of 45 works of the Qianlong emperor’s collection and his reign from the Palace Museum in Beijing, marking another fine occasion for cooperation between the two.
This special exhibition is divided into three sections. The first is entitled "Taste and Cultivation," referring to Qianlong’s inspiration from his grandfather, father, and teachers as well as to the influence of his environment--including a rich collection and literary officials, painters, and skilled craftsmen--on his taste in art. The second part, "Connoisseurship and Production," mainly presents the Qianlong emperor’s grand and systematic organization of the Qing imperial collections and their compilation into various catalogues. He ranked artifacts in the palace collections as "Supreme" and "Second class" or placed them in categories corresponding to "Divine," "Marvelous," "Capable," and "Untrammeled," as well as "A (jia)," "B (yi)," and "C (bing)," playing a direct role in the formation of a court style and influencing artistic styles both in and outside of the palace. The third section, "Life and Art," mostly deals with the Qianlong emperor’s six decades of rule, including his six southern inspection tours and sojourns into Jiangnan; his ten "all complete" military campaigns and the expansion of the Qing empire; and Sino-Western exchange and foreign visitors in China. All of these greatly enriched his experiences in life and broadened his vision, transforming them into a unique and diverse taste in art that found expression in moments of leisure.
Source: National Palace Museum