La Cité interdite au Louvre


Ceramic, drawing, lithography / engraving, painting

La Cité interdite au Louvre

Past: September 29, 2011 → January 9, 2012

This exhibition invites visitors to explore objects from the collections of Chinese emperors, through a selection of 130 works, on exceptional loan from the Palace Museum at the Forbidden City in Beijing. In all, 800 years of history are covered, from the Yuan dynasty to the dawn of the modern era. The event is organized around three main aspects, presented in three distinct exhibition spaces in the museum. The introductory section, presented in the History of the Louvre rooms, lays the ground work for the overall presentation, establishing the chronology for the exhibition and underscoring the frequent exchanges between France and China. The fortified architecture of the Forbidden City is the subject examined in the moats of the medieval Louvre and the Salle de la Maquette, while the question of the imperial collections is addressed in the Espace Richelieu, with a special focus on the Qianlong emperor.

The connected histories of dynasties in China and in France provide the theme for the first rooms of the exhibition. The idea is to insert the sequence of the main Chinese rulers within the existing chronological itinerary of the History of the Louvre rooms and to show, for each major period, the exchanges at work between the two countries. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, there were attempts at exchanges between France and the Mongol Khans, as evidenced by the chancery letters sent by Philippe le Bel or the publication fifty years later of the Atlas Catalan, which included the oldest known map of Beijing to have appeared in the West, formerly stored in the personal library of Charles V, which was housed in a corner tower of the medieval Louvre.

2 portrait epouse mingzong medium
Portrait de l’impératrice, épouse de l’empereur Mingzong, Anonyme ; extrait d’un portfolio de portraits des impératrices, des concubines et des princes héritiers de la dynastie Yuan Dynastie Yuan (1271-1368) © 故宫博物院 / Musée du Palais impérial

Portraits of the main Chinese empire builders, accompanied by personal objects, weapons, clothing and ornaments, introduce the life of the imperial court while presenting the key figures of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). In this way, visitors become acquainted successively with the Yongle emperor, the founder of the Forbidden City and a contemporary of Charles VI, the Jiajing emperor (r. 1521–1566), who extended Yongle’s temple complex and renamed it as the Temple of Heaven, a contemporary of François I, and the Wanli emperor, celebrated today for his burial place known as the Ding Ling tomb, the only one of the thirteen Ming tombs at the same site to have been fully excavated, a contemporary of Henri III and Henri IV.

The “mandate of Heaven” of the Kangxi emperor, the second ruler of the Qing dynasty, was exceptionally long, as was that of his contemporary Louis XIV, a period which saw the establishment of intellectual exchanges between the two countries, initiated by Jesuit fathers.

19 on offre des prisonniers medium
« On offre [à l’Empereur] des prisonniers [faits lors] de la pacification des tribus musulmanes », Louis-Joseph Masquelier, d’après Jean-Denis Attiret, vers 1766-1774 1760 Paris, musée du Louvre, département des Arts graphiques, collection du baron Edmond de Rothschild, 27458 LR, Planche XIV © 2008 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

Several Chinese books from the collections of the Sun King illustrate these firm ties.

The twin destinies of these two rulers were to continue through their offspring, as the reign of Kangxi’s grandson, the Qianlong emperor, was concomitant with those of Louis XV and Louis XVI. Several Chinese objects from French royal collections bear witness, beyond the European fascination for chinoiserie, to the depth and extent of the dissemination of Chinese art. This exploration of parallels between the two countries comes to an end with a presentation of the astonishingly long reign of the dowager empress Tseu Hi (Cixi).

While the building of the Louvre was the result of a long process culminating in the vast complex we know today, the Forbidden City emerged seemingly whole cloth, the product of the iron will of a single man, the Yongle emperor. Its construction began in 1406 and was completed sixteen years later, covering a rectangular area of 72 hectares (178 acres) with a north-south orientation. Protected by moats and brick walls on all four sides, the city’s buildings contain some 8,700 rooms. The exhibition features a scale model of this city, allowing visitors to get a true sense of the reality on the ground. Twenty-four emperors of two dynasties ruled China from this site. Before reaching the scale model, visitors are invited to follow the path traced by the moats of the medieval Louvre, where the history of this period is brought to life through a video installation. After the model, the exhibition itinerary includes vestiges of the Forbidden City’s architecture, attesting to the ancient pedigree of its stone foundations, its wooden structures, its brick walls and floors, and its varnished tile roofs. The colorful uniforms of the Eight Banners, displayed alongside an exceptional painted scroll depicting the emperor inspecting his troops, recall the military function of this heavily fortified enclosure.

29 poulain medium
« Poulain tout à son aise », cheval isabelle, Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shining) Dynastie Qing, période Qianlong (1736-1795) © 故宫博物院 / Musée du Palais impérial

The core section of the exhibition is installed in the Espace Richelieu and focuses on the Qianlong emperor. In the eighteenth century, China was at the height of its power, expanding its borders to the greatest extent in its history. An absolute monarch, the Qianlong emperor sought to promote the arts with the same tenacity that he applied to political matters. A fervent collector, but also himself a painter and calligrapher, he invited the empire’s brightest stars to take up residence at the imperial court and also attracted Western artists such as Giuseppe Castiglione (1688–1766) or Jean-Denis Attiret (1702–1768). A large collection of distinguished works by these artists, particularly a number of remarkable equine paintings, are arranged around portraits of the Qianlong emperor, opposite one of his ceremonial thrones.

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Palais royal, musée du Louvre

75001 Paris

Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre

Opening hours

Every day except Tuesday, 9 AM – 6 PM
Late night on Wednesday, Friday until 9:30 PM
Lundi, jeudi, samedi, dimanche : fermeture des salles à partir de 17h30

Admission fee

Full rate €17.00

D’octobre à mars : le premier dimanche de chaque mois, l’accès aux collections permanentes est gratuit pour tous.

Venue schedule