January 31, 2011 / 8:44 PM / 7 years ago

Art from China's Forbidden City on view in NY

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NEW YORK, Jan 31 (Reuters Life) - Objects and artwork from the Forbidden City's hidden inner sanctum, a sealed off compound built in high luxury for the Chinese emperor's retirement, will be unveiled in New York on Tuesday.

"The Emperor's Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City" opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on February 1 and runs until May 1.

The show features 90 objects from the 27-building garden sanctuary, built at Emperor Qianlong's request in the northeast corner of Beijing's Forbidden City.

Known as the Qianlong garden, the compound was supposed to be for the emperor's retirement, but he never relinquished the throne and the space remained unchanged and unoccupied since its 1776 completion.

It is made up of separate buildings meant for different activities, such as the "supreme chamber of cultivating harmony," or the "building of luminous clouds."

This secret garden, which curators said showcased the epitome of late 18th century Chinese skill, has remained closed to the public since it was built. It has been undergoing restoration since 2001, with expected completion in 2019.

Curators said on Monday that the exhibition was a unique opportunity to view the objects since they would likely return to China never to travel again.

"The garden was meant to be a lasting testimony to the efficacy of his (the emperor's) rule," said Maxwell Hearn, the curator of the exhibition. "Every surface was embellished with the finest workmanship, the most precious materials imaginable."

The show regroups Buddhist icons, murals, furniture, decorative objects and painted scrolls that have been restored.

But as much as the Qianlong garden embodied the height of late 18th century Chinese craft, it also showcases various Western influences.

Traditional motifs of the bamboo, plum tree blossoms and pine trees in one representation are juxtaposed to lavishly decorated screens inlaid with glass, a Western import. Western techniques of proportion and representation are incorporated into some of the scrolls.

But beyond decorative aspects Western influence was kept somewhat at bay, Hearn said. Although every European country competed for his favor in order to get access to trade routes, the emperor failed to grasp Europe's rise.

"Because this emperor was so surrounded by the wealth of his environment, he failed to understand the importance of bridging East and West," Hearn said. "That was the myopic vision of the emperor."

Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Patricia Reaney

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