Forbidden City

China’s most extravagant monarchs—the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–95) presided over China’s last dynasty

弘曆圓形古裝行樂圖像 軸
Portrait of the Qianlong Emperor in Ancient Costume
Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing


The Qianlong Emperor was a master in using Western-style illusionistic images of himself in different guises to create alternate personae. Here, the youthful emperor had himself portrayed as a cultured Chinese scholar. Sitting in his study appointed with classical Chinese-style furniture, he is poised, brush in hand, to transcribe a poem onto a banana leaf. The only detail that distinguishes him from a traditional scholar is his ornate robe covered with auspicious motifs of flowers and cranes in bright, contrasting colors.


Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799; r. 1736–95)
Calligraphic Inscription, dated 1776
From the Belvedere of Viewing Achievements (Fuwangge)
Lent by the Palace Museum, Beijing

An avid calligrapher, the Qianlong Emperor developed a distinctive style characterized by regularity and restraint. Inscribed on gold-painted paper made specifically for the court, this text describes his anticipation of retirement.

The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City
February 1, 2011–May 1, 2011

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