Philobiblon: Review - China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795

Monday, November 21, 2005

Review - China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795

If you want to see great art, don't go to the Chinese exhibition at the Royal Academy. If, however, you want to be entertained and delighted, surprised and enlightened, then this is an unmissable event.

From the first room, with its giant portraits of the emperors of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns* and the astonishingly crafted garments that match those they are wearing, you are dazzled with brilliant colours and swamped in the astonishing detail and craftsmanship that produced these lovingly preserved samples of what must be largely lost arts.

Almost everything in this extensive exhibition was made to the greater glory of these three men, or for their entertainment**. They appear again and again in different guises, sometimes as fervent Buddhists, sometimes as hunt-obsessed leaders of fierce nomads, sometimes as sober Confucian scholars. (Although the extremely formidable-looking Xiaosheng, Empress Dowager, painted in 1751 for her 60th birthday, does get an airing in this first room.)

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