The Qianlong Gardens are a two-acre section of the Forbidden City in Beijing, dating to the 1770s and including 27 structures organized around four courtyards. The Gardens were commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796) as a retirement palace, and were designed largely by Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione.
Since the Emperor had a separate summer palace at the Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace), the "Gardens" were planned as a winter palace, with buildings clustered closely together for warmth. Though planned as a retirement palace, the Qianlong Emperor never actually retired, abdicating three years before his death, and continuing to wield effective power even after abdicating, right up until his death.
One section of the Qianlong Gardens in particular, the Juànqínzhāi (倦勤斋, "Studio of Exhaustion From Diligent Service"), is famous for its incorporation of numerous trompe l'oiel mural paintings, known as tōngjǐng huà (通景畫, "painting connecting vistas") in Chinese. Most were not truly "mural" paintings, strictly speaking, in that they were not painted directly onto the walls, but rather were painted on paper and then applied onto the walls like wallpaper, in a Chinese mode known as tiēluò (貼落). The Studio featured an indoor theatre space, where the Emperor would enjoy private performances. The ceiling of this room was painted with an image of wisteria blossoms hanging over trellises, giving the illusion of being in an outdoor garden, under a perpetually blue sky and flower trellises. Wall paintings in this section of the palace included ones employing linear perspective, something quite new in China at the time, giving the illusion of the room extending into a much larger space; they also included wall paintings depicting a view of the outside, giving the illusion of actually gazing out of the room into the gardens, when in fact looking at an interior wall. The Studio also included a number of secret doors hidden behind mirrors.
Following the evacuation of the palace by the last emperor in 1924, the Gardens were left untouched for many decades, never being opened to the public.
Conservators working with the World Monuments Fund began an extensive conservation effort on the Qianlong Gardens in 2001. Work on the Juànqínzhāi was completed in 2008, while work on the other 26 buildings continues.
- Gallery labels, "The Emperor’s Private Paradise," Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011.
- "Juanqinzhai in the Qianlong Garden," World Monuments Fund.
- Michael Greenberg, “A New Imperial Landscape: Ritual, Representation, and Foreign Relations at the Qianlong Court,” PhD diss, Yale (2015), 10.