Top 10 treasures at Beijing Palace Museum

By Elaine Duan

Beijing Palace Museum.

The Palace Museum, founded in 1925, is a national museum housed inside the Forbidden City, the imperial palace of the Ming (1368-1683) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties and a World Heritage site since 1987.

Located at the center of Beijing, the Palace Museum holds over 1,807,558 artifacts, including paintings, pottery, inscribed wares, bronze wares, and court documents. There are over a million rare and valuable works of art in the museum’s collection. Here is a list of the top ten treasures to be found at the museum.

#1 Jinou Yonggu Cup of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆金瓯永固杯)

Located at the Zhenbao Hall of Ningshou Palace 宁寿宫珍宝馆

Jinou Yonggu Cup of Emperor Qianlong.

This wine cup is a cornerstone of the imperial collection of Qing Dynasty. In 1739, Emperor Qianlong ordered it made on his 30th birthday, engraving “Jinou Yonggu,” a wish of eternal stability for the Qing Dynasty. The cup is 12.5 centimeters tall and has a caliber measuring 8 centimeters. Its stems are 5 centimeters high. There are many veins engraved around the cup.

According to the Record of Royal Household Bureau, Emperor Qianlong paid great attention to making the cup. It was made of precious materials including gold, pearls and diamond with quality craftsmanship and refined many times to the Emperor’s specifications. Hence, this gold cup is traditionally considered to be the greatest treasure of the imperial palace.

# 2 Carved Lacquer Plate By Zhang Cheng (张成造款雕漆云纹盘)

Carved Lacquer Plate By Zhang Cheng.

Zhang Cheng was the lacquerware carving master of Yuan Dynasty and his masterpiece is traditionally regarded as the gem of carved lacquerware works. This plate is the representative masterpiece of lacquerware collected in Palace Museum. It is 3.3 centimeters tall and has a caliber measuring 19.2 centimeters. The body of the plate is made of wood and painted black. The inside and outside of the plate are both carved in the shape of clouds.

# 3 Gray Jade Stove Carved with Dragon in Cloud (青玉云龙纹炉)

Located at the Jadeware Hall of Zhongcui Palace 钟粹宫玉器馆

Gray Jade Stove Carved with Dragon in Cloud.

The stove is considered a jadeware masterpiece among the Palace Museum’s collection. Made in the Song Dyansty, the stove is 7.9 centimeters tall and 12.8 centimeters in diameter. The surface is carved with floating dragons, auspicious clouds and the oceanic waves. Carved at bottom of the piece is a classical poem written by Emperor Qianlong.

# 4 Cloisonné Incense Burner with Lotus Decoration and Elephant-trunk Handles (掐丝珐琅缠枝莲纹象耳炉)

Cloisonné Incense Burner with Lotus Decoration and Elephant-trunk Handles.

This Yuan-dynasty incense burner is 13.9 and 13.5 centimeters in diameter. It has a round and bulging brass body, two handles shaped like elephant trunks and a foot ring. Around the neck are 12 yellow, white, red and purple chrysanthemum flowers on a light blue enamel background. The body is decorated with six red, white and yellow intertwining lotus flowers on a sapphire blue background. Below them is a band of lotus petals. The enamel coating is shiny and smooth. In some places, it is as transparent as glass.

# 5 Riverside Scene during Qingming Festival (清明上河图)

Located at the Paintings and Calligraphy Hall of Wuying Palace 武英殿书画馆

Riverside Scene during Qingming Festival.

Riverside Scene during Qingming Festival is one of the top ten Chinese classical paintings. It was painted in the Song Dynasty by Zhang Zeduan, a royal-assigned painter who worked in the Imperial Art Academy, considered one of the greatest ancient Chinese painters.

The masterpiece is 24.8 centimeters wide and 528.7 centimeters long, depicting real-life scenes of China in the 12th century. It displays the prosperous city of Bianjing (now called Kaifeng) on Qingming Festival, highlighting the developed economy of the Song Dynasty.

# 6 Letter of Recovery (平复帖)

Located at the Paintings and Calligraphy Hall of Wuying Palace 武英殿书画馆

Letter of Recovery was written by Lu Ji, a famous calligrapher during the Western Jin Dynasty, who wrote to his friend inquiring about his friend’s illness. It is one of the oldest manuscripts in China and a model calligraphic work collected at the Palace Museum.

Some scholars believe it was a cursive form of official script. Characterized by a simple and vivid style, this masterpiece is 23.7 centimeters wide and 20.6 centimeters long. The letter had been handed down from collector to collector before it was donated to the Palace Museum.

# 7 Colorized Lacquer Clock with Eight Immortals (群仙祝寿御制钟)

Located at the Clock Hall of Fengxian Palace 奉先殿钟表馆

Colorized Lacquer Clock with Eight Immortals.

This clock, which sits on a rectangular table, is a representative masterpiece among clock collections in the Palace Museum. It is 185 centimeters tall, 102 centimeters wide in the front and 70 centimeters wide at both sides.

The clock was made during the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong, and took five years to complete. There are seven mechanical systems that control the timepiece and chimes. When the springs at bottom are wound, the scenes to the right and left of the clock panel will rotate. The clock strikes at every quarter hour and three doors on the second story will automatically open to show three figures holding hammers and bells. The figures on the right and left strike bells to announce the quarter hour and the central figure marks the hour. After that, the figures retreat into the tower, music plays and the scenes beside the clock panel begin to move.

# 8 Silk Tapestry of the Painting “Plum Blossom and Magpie” (梅鹊图)

Silk Tapestry of the Painting "Plum Blossom and Magpie".

This masterpiece, 104 centimeters long and 36 centimeters wide, is the work of Southern Song Dynasty master weaver Shen Zifan of Suzhou, who meticulously depicted this serene traditional landscape scene on silk.

Silk tapestry, known literally as “cut silk” in Chinese, refers to a method of weaving on a flat loom in which colored vertical threads are passed back and forth through a fixed matrix of horizontal threads to form the desired pattern. The term “cut silk” is derived from the fact that the patterns often appear as if they were literally cut out of a larger piece of cloth. It is regarded as the noblest form of silk weaving craftsmanship.

# 9 Lang-Kiln Red-Glazed Vase (郎窑红釉穿带直口瓶)

Located at the Pottery Hall of Wenhua Palace 文华殿陶瓷馆

Lang-Kiln Red-Glazed Vase.

At the request of Qing Emperor Kangxi, this red-glazed vase was produced in China’s “porcelain capital” of Jingdezhen, under the supervision of Jiangxi governor Lang Tingji. It is regarded as a rare jewel among the porcelain collections in the Palace Museum due to the artists’ exceptional craftsmanship and use of superior materials.

# 10 Yaxu Rectangular Vessel (亚方尊)

Located at the Bronzeware Hall of Chengqian Palace 承乾宫青铜器馆

Yaxu Rectangular Vessel.

The bronze Xu Rectangular Vessel is a wine container popular from the Shang Dynasty (1556 BC – 1046 BC) to the Warring States period (475 BC -221 BC). It is 38 centimeters wide, 45.5 centimeters tall with a caliber measuring 33.6 * 33.4 centimeters. The vessel weighs 21.4 kilograms and has four handles on each side in the form of an elephant’s head. Between the two handles are decorations of other unknown animals. The body is covered with motifs of dragons and animal masks against a thunder pattern.

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