The Emperor's Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City

February 1–May 1, 2011

Practicing Calligraphy, Writing Poetry

Traditionally, Chinese gentlemen—foremost among them the Qianlong Emperor—were highly trained in both calligraphy and poetry. Indeed, among the more than forty thousand poems written by the emperor, many express his striving for further personal refinement. Calligraphy and poetry were integral elements in all Chinese gardens, and throughout the Qianlong Garden, plaques bearing the emperor's calligraphy announce the name of each structure. Inside the buildings, additional poems and calligraphies can be seen pasted on the walls and inset into architectural components.

Because of the fundamental importance of calligraphy, poetry, and painting in the lives of cultivated Chinese men in the 1700s, the tools for pursuing these activities were highly valued. Known as the Four Essentials of a Scholar's Study, they included a brush, an ink stick, paper, and an inkstone. Precious materials and complex techniques were used to create refined objects for the calligrapher's desk.

The exhibition features a number of such Qianlong-era accoutrements of the scholar's desk from the Palace Museum's collection that, while not all found in the garden's halls, would have been appropriate for use there.