Exclusive blockbuster exhibit gives VMFA international shine

Posted at 9:13 PM, Jul 16, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-16 21:47:47-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A historic collaboration will lead to an exchange of art and treasures between the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Beijing, China.

The exclusive exhibit at the VMFA starts on October 18 and will feature some of China's finest treasures from the Palace Museum.

The VMFA will be the first United States museum to, in return, present an exhibition from its permanent collection at the Palace Museum -- in 2016.

Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing
will present nearly 200 works of art drawn from the collection of the Palace Museum. Featured works include paintings, sculptures, costumes, furniture, gold and silver, jade, lacquer, and other decorative arts.

These artworks represent the imperial collection from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties with a focus on the mid-Qing dynasty.

Forbidden City addresses how Qing rulers incorporated their Manchu nomadic traditions, adopted cultural elements from ethnic groups, and endeavored to create a diverse government and maintain societal harmony.

Based on the layout of the Forbidden City, the exhibition is organized into four sections:

  1. Rituals of the Qing Court features 90 objects including paintings depicting historic events and life-size horses, ritual musical instruments, and a setting of throne room furniture. The exhibition addresses the function of the outer court, and the important roles of various rituals.
  2. Court Arts in the Inner Court illustrates about 60 artworks, including portraits of emperors and empresses, furniture, and decorative objects. The exhibition explores how the prestige of the emperors, cultural exchange, and trade with the West influenced the distinctive art forms and styles developed by imperial workshops.
  3. Court Paintings offers 20 court paintings that depict animals, figures in landscapes, and botanical scenes. The exhibition explores symbolism in these works and addresses how Qing rulers reinstituted court painters in the 18th century, in keeping with their Ming predecessors.
  4. Religion in the Palace features 30 works ranging from sculpture and thangkas to sutras, pagodas, and offerings. The exhibition reveals the Buddhist and Daoist activities in the palace and provides a glimpse into spiritual life in the inner court.

Viewers will get a broad perspective of imperial China through evocative gallery design, graphic materials, architectural models, and video. Dramatic images of the palace and amazing architectural scale will take visitors on a simulated journey into the buildings and grounds, once forbidden to the general public.

A number of interior designs modeled after the inner quarters of the palace will provide a unique experience for visitors. VMFA will be the first American museum to use 3D printing technology to create a scaled model of the Forbidden City. One model will be on display in the exhibition and another will be output during the exhibition in VMFA’s Atrium.

About the Forbidden City

The Palace Museum is located in the center of Beijing on the site of what was once the imperial palace, known as the Forbidden City. The residence was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties from 1420 until the last emperor in 1924. The Palace Museum is the largest art museum in China and the largest palace in the world. Established in 1925, the Palace Museum holds more than 1.8 million works of art and artifacts, many of which are either on view in the palace halls or featured in special exhibitions in the palace. In 1987, the Palace Museum was listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, and it attracted more than 14 million visitors from China and abroad in 2013.

Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from Palace Museum, Beijing runs from Oct.18, 2014 thru Jan. 11, 2015.

  • TICKETS: $20; $16 for seniors 65+ and adult groups of 10+; and $10 for students with ID and youth ages 7 – 17. Free for members and children 6 and younger.
  • CATALOGUE: A catalogue will be published in conjunction with the exhibition. The catalogue contains 250 pages and full-color illustrations of all art works featured in the exhibition. It also includes maps, a list of artists, a bibliography, and an index. Essays and entries in the catalogue are contributed by Li Jian, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art, VMFA; He Li, Associate Curator of Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum in San Francisco; Hou-mei Sung, Curator of Asian Art, Cincinnati Museum of Art; and Ma Shengnan, Research Associate, the Palace Museum. $39.95.
  • PACKAGES: The Jefferson Hotel will offer a special Forbidden City Package to include a choice of accommodations, traditional Southern breakfast for two and gratuity, two tickets to the exhibition, valet parking and complimentary transportation to and from VMFA. Go to for more information. For other lodging and transportation packages, go to

TheVMFAis open 365 days a year and general admission is always free.  For additional information, telephone 804-340-1400 or visit