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Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhao (Zhaogongfu)
Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhao (Zhaogongfu), First half of 17th century
Wood with painted decoration
18 feet x 46 feet 4 1/4 inches x 35 feet 2 1/2 inches (548.6 x 1412.9 x 1073.2 cm)
Gift of Edward B. Robinette, 1929
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About This Setting

This exquisite chamber, built in the early 1600s, was once the main reception hall in a palatial compound in Beijing (bei-jing), China's capital. The exposed roof timbers are painted with lively, auspicious (favorable or lucky) designs in vibrant colors. The design motifs range from animals to flowers and fruits to stylized dragons. The main tie beam displays the peony, a Chinese symbol of spring, and peaches, which symbolize longevity. Seasonal flowers also appear on the other beams, including plum blossoms for winter, the lotuses for summer, and chrysanthemums for autumn.

The carved, painted ceiling is the most elaborate architectural element of the reception room. Two large, red pine tie beams fit into columns that help support the weight of the heavy roof, whose outer surface would have been covered with clay roof tiles. Above these beams, smaller ones run parallel, topped with decoratively carved, scroll-shaped elements. Purlins run perpendicular to the tie beams and support the rafters. This twenty-six-foot-high construction impresses Museum visitors today as much as it must have done to visitors to this palace complex in Ming dynasty Beijing.

The reception hall, the most formal space in a residential complex, was where noblemen greeted important guests and where family members celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and performed Confucian rituals honoring their ancestors. The family's most elegant and luxurious collections would have been displayed here. Today, the room is furnished with decorative objects (including Moon Crystal and Dog Cage) made from lacquer, porcelain, rock crystal, jade, and enamels, which enhance the hall's grandeur and beauty and indicate the extravagant wealth of the Ming and Qing (ching) dynasty courts.

History of the Reception Hall

This elaborate reception hall is thought to be the only significant example of Chinese palace architecture outside China. Many of the principal characteristics of Chinese palace architecture can be seen within it, especially the exposed wood construction emphasized by painted decoration. In the Ming and Qing dynasties when this chamber was occupied by a succession of high-ranking government officials, sumptuary laws regulated the size of private residences, as well as the use of paint, since color helped identify and distinguish rank. The elaborate and colorful designs found in the layers of paint that have been detected in this building indicate that craftsmen decorated it for occupants of considerable social standing.

This reception hall was once set in one of several courtyards in a palace complex. Visitors would have presented their names at the main door of the compound, after which a servant would have led them from the public to the private spaces of the dwelling in accordance with their social position. Outsiders such as peddlers were kept waiting at the entrance, while friends, relatives, and associates were more likely to have been received in the first courtyard or in the reception hall itself.

Visitors approaching the main entrance would have been impressed by the hall's stately appearance. The floor and entrance steps were made of stone, and the roof was steeply pitched with large, overhanging eaves. Once inside, large wooden columns covered in bright red lacquer supported the heavy roof, allowing the brick outer walls to be pierced with delicate wooden lattice doors and windows, which were then covered with oiled paper, silk gauze, pearl shell, or horn, providing privacy while letting light filter through these translucent materials into the room.

This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: China, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.


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