I'm travelling into a new way of working, a new country, a new language, and a new hobby which I'm passionate about. Come with me for some of the journey...

Sunday 15 May 2016

Beijing - The Forbidden City Part II

Hello all!  By the time you read this I'll be on my way to the airport again (really not a fan of the 6am start!).  Not quite so far to go this time, or for quite so long - some work with Teatr Pieśń Kozła (Song of the Goat Theatre) in Wrocław, Poland, for a week.  It's an extraordinary company I'm very proud and excited to work with regularly.

But while I'm there, you can travel to China again here at Words and Pictures and see some more of the extraordinary craftsmanship on show in the Forbidden City, Beijing.  As always, remember you can click on the photos for a larger view - though as some of these were taken on maximum zoom, I'm afraid the focus isn't always brilliant... I prefer getting in close up!

You've seen some of the buildings and admired the rooftops.  Today we're going to be getting up close and personal with some of the skill and artistry on display nearer ground level.  (Catch up with The Forbidden City Part I here if you missed it.)

I will confess I had mixed feelings as I made my way through the palace complex.  It is awe-inspiring, but it's hard not to be aware that this display of power and wealth was built on the back of virtual slavery - not of the 100,000 skilled artisans perhaps, but almost certainly of the more than a million labourers.

(At one point, one of our Chinese interpreters launched into a furious diatribe about the human abuses involved in the construction of the Great Wall - a trip I missed unfortunately, because I had to be in Shanghai a day earlier than most of the company to do some schools' workshops.)

And I suppose it was having the intended effect on me...

... I felt small and powerless in the face of this immense demonstration of authority and power.

However, I also became angry at the inequality of distribution of wealth.  Anger at authority - not a luxury afforded to the people of Imperial China.

Still, you can't help but admire the work itself (even if it's a bit full-on for my minimalist tastes!).

It seems as though every surface - doors, floors, ceilings, window-frames, railings - is gilded, or carved, or decorated in one way or another.

There are the motifs we think of as traditionally Chinese: the dragon - the symbol of the emperor...

(Those within reach are worn away by being touched by millions of fingers for luck - yes, millions... more than 14 million people visit the Forbidden City each year.)

... and the lion.   Look at this magnificent chap - symbolising dignity and authority - guarding one of the many stairways.

(And just wait til you see the lion sitting in the Emperor's private garden in Part III!)

I fell in love with this elegant bronze crane - he symbolises longevity apparently.  I don't know... are cranes particularly long lived?

More bronze, this time an incense burner, more than six feet tall.  They are everywhere, particularly surrounding the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

You can just imagine the intense fragrance wafting around the courtyards, whilst the burner must also have provided a little additional heat and light.

There are also vast cauldrons at regular intervals (308 of them in total, according to my sources) which would have been full of water to be used in putting out fires.  Since the halls are constructed chiefly out of wood, that must have been a vital precaution.

(This one is iron, I think, and you can see one of the brass cauldrons in the Part I post, in the quartet of smaller photos all together, top right.)

Though the halls themselves might be made largely of wood, they sit on immense plinths of stone, or in some cases marble - and again the carving is exquisite, and there are tonnes upon tonnes of marble and metres and metres of carving.

This is the ceiling inside one of the Halls - carved, painted, gilded and with some more of the beautiful ceramic mouldings I mentioned in the previous post.

(I'm sorry I don't know which hall this is... I bet there's a way to annotate photos on the iPhone so that you have a note of the details later but I haven't found it.)

You probably spotted it in the background on some of the window carving photos above, but how about some crackle, folks?!

Yes, my crackle obsession found expression even here.  Amidst all these glories, I've got lots of photos of crackled paint!

It is part of another magnificently decorative doorway...

At some of the entrances, the huge doors have these brass knobs - nine rows of nine making 81 in total, nine being the most auspicious number according to Chinese superstition, and therefore 9x9 being extremely lucky.

I read somewhere that nine was also associated with the emperor, and that the five claws on all the dragons' feet are also an Imperial signifier.

According to one guidebook, any commoner displaying the nine knobs or a five-clawed dragon could face execution.

Another lion looks on ferociously, with extra dragons at the ready, just in case you needed a further deterrent... and yes, more crackle!

Take another look at the brass window decorations near the start of the post - they do have five claws.  And this dragon's foot, carved into the side of a large wooden cabinet has too, though the "thumb" is a little stubby!

This was an phenomenal piece of carved artwork, with the dragon hovering over the waves of a turbulent sea.  Sadly, it was behind a glass window, and the other photos, including the one I tried to get of the whole cabinet, are too full of reflections to see much.

Just outside one particular doorway, I was rather taken with this huge lantern - again more than six feet tall in total.

Notice also the very high threshold to the doorframe... that's to keep out evil spirits and ghosts, and it's not reserved to emperors.  You have to step high to step over a traditional Chinese threshold even outside the Forbidden City.

So, that's another selection of highlights for you... I hope you'll be able to join me again for Part III soon, when we'll make our way into the Emperor's private garden to see what and who he keeps there!

Thanks so much for stopping by, and I'll see you again soon.

The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.
Charles R. Swindoll


Pawsitively Creative said...

Wow! Food for thought and I feel the same way. Gorgeous to look at like a Black Momba snake, beautiful but deadly. The buildings are stunning but deadly to those that out in the hard work tobuild it. Thanks for a great picture selection to look at! Awesome sauce! ~Niki

brenda said...

Thank you for sharing more great photos with us Alison.

Safe travels.

B x

carol edwards said...

Thank you for all the wonderful pictures and for the information surrounding it. Certainly food for thoughtx

Amanda said...

Another collection of fabulous pictures and facts really enjoying these. Look forward to part 3!
Amanda x

Helen said...

Fabulous photographs, (love the crackle!) but hard to think of the cost in lives to create it... The stork is rather magnificent too. Looking forward to the next part of the journey.

chrissie said...

Amazing photographs and I am sure the power of all the things you saw there will stay with you forever.

The Poland jobs sounds like something new even for you so I am sure you will enjoy that.I look forward to reports on the progress there :)

Love Chrissie xx

craftytrog said...

Wow!!! Very impressive! Lovely crackle, will we be seeing some red in your art when you get back Alison? ;-) xxx

Jane said...

Another fabulous instalment Alison.....such incredible craftsmanship. The photos make my jaw drop so goodness knows how you felt standing there. Thanks for sharing and looking forward to part 3
PS loved the crackle too ;0)
Hugs xx

hazel said...

Wow! Wonderful photos - such beautiful buildings and artwork.
xxx Hazel.

Pamellia said...

Fabulous photos Alison, what a great time you must have had! Have fun at your destination!! hugs :)

Astrid Maclean said...

The word that keeps springing to my mind when I look at these photos and read your descriptions, is awe inspiring. Interesting how so many of the carvings and textures remind me of some of the ornate embossing folders etc that are around. To think that all this wonderful decoration was carved by hand...... and yes, the social unfairness of it all is awful, no wonder the coin flipped completely to the other side under Mao... Love the crackle, again, so similar to the effect of some of our crafty products....

Have fun in Poland, I bet it will be wonderful too at this time of year. Hope you get to see a bit more aside the inside of a theatre...

Jackie PN said...

Yay! 2 days in a row!!
I have to tell you,I read the opening paragraph, view all of the photos slowly, then go back read the rest of the post and view photos again! Now, when I first saw that crackle, I laughed and said, of course Alison would dig this- I do! Eat your heart out DecoArt! haahaa
Another fabulous post Alison! Thank you so much for sharing and taking us on your journeys! I look forward to more of China and Poland as well!! (hint hint)
xoxo Jackie

Inky and Quirky Designs said...

Gorgeous pictures Alison....wow you're making my head spin with all your travelling!
Donna xx

Juliz Design Post said...

Thanks for sharing these beautiful inspirational photos.
Have fun on your travels, Julie x

Neet said...

These photos take me back to the time we went on a China Tour and took in the Forbidden City etc. My very best holiday ever, well, one of my top two. Thanks for reminding me of the beautiful things on view there - I just love the architecture and decoration.
Hugs, Neet xx

Julia Aston said...

Goodness Alison - you are better than a tour guide with your information and beautiful photos! What an impressive place - and how wonderful that you were right there in person!! Julia xx

froebelsternchen said...

Amazing impression s Alison! Just fabulous ! Thank you for sharing!

Marci said...

Thank you for another tour. Now we know what authentic crackle should look like!

Nan G said...

What an amazing place to visit! Awe inspiring craftsmanship when one considers the era in which it was created. Thank you for taking us along on the tour. I look forward to part III. Hugs

Lys said...

Gorgeous details here! Thanks for sharing, Alison!

Fliss said...

Really beautiful pics you're sharing Alison and love the faded colours and textures which look so lovely and shabby in style.
Enjoy your time in Poland.
Fliss xx

experiments in paper said...

Stunning and inspiring - perhaps the silver lining in the history that created the Forbidden City. Absolutely gorgeous photos - with an iPhone no less!! Safe travels to Poland, and I echo Astrid in the hope you get some "outside" time! xxx Lynn

Meggymay said...

Fabulous photos, I agree that the shame in all of this, is the souls who suffered to raise these buildings.
Hope all goes well in Poland.
Look forward to the next photographic installment of your trip.
Yvonne xx

Redanne said...

Another wonderful post Alison, so much opulence but it is sad to think of the suffering that was endured by those who helped to build it. I hope you have a wonderful time in Poland and get to see some of the sights there too. Anne xx

Mrs.B said...

Wonderful photos Alison, thanks for sharing.
Hope you manage some 'free time' in Poland.
Avril xx

Brenda Brown said...

Oh my gosh Alison these are just stunning photos depicting more of the palace and grounds. I am blown away by the artistry of the work on the buildings and your clever photography in catching all the details. TFS, have a safe trip to Poland and a wonderful visit. Xxx

SewPaperPaint said...

Oh my goodness, a dream come true! I would love to have this visit and am so happy for you!!! Beautiful shots, thanks so much for letting me into your big world. Hugs, Autumn

Sandy said...

Thank you Alison -- your pictures are really stunning and although I imagine all of it put together is a little overwhelming, I saw different designs that standing alone is quite gorgeous!
Thank you again and travel safe. I look forward to the next installment!
sandy xx

Anita Houston The Artful Maven said...

You've given me to do some research...lol. Nevertheless, gorgeous photos and beautiful detail, given the time it was created...I'm amazed!

Heather said...

Beautiful creations Allison, wonderfully creating, what a wonderful way of seeing and creations in this wonderful city!! Beautiful ways of founding all so beautiful with such pretty wonderful creations.
A wonderful ceeation!!

Heather xx

Sue said...

Fabulous photographs Alison, and what an interesting place to visit. The carving looks stunning! Looking forward to part 3 xx

Gaby Bee said...

Amazing photos Alison! Thanks for sharing, what a great time you must have had!

Cocofolies said...

Fabulous post and photographs again!!!!!
Like you, I feel shared feelings regarding the way this magnificent and imposing building has been created... but love love the crackled paint too, and above that, the wonderful decorations and sculpted elements, wow. Hugs xx

Deb said...

Truly amazing artwork and the detail is incredible, hard to imagine how long they laboured to create it all. Thanks again for sharing your amazing pictures and looking forward to part three! Deb xo

Dorthe said...

Truly, so gorgeous, dear Alison,
and as we spoke about earlier,and you talk about here, truly also so unfair, and dictatorial. So many poor people suffered from all this magical buildings and art .
BUT ,yes we must admire it all the same, the stunning work, and all different art pieces ,there.
Have a lovely evening.

Barbara said...

Stunning post! Love your photos! Enjoy your time! Barbara

pearshapedcrafting said...

Sadly, there will always be uneven distribution of wealth! I am glad that you still managed to enjoy the fabulous carvings and statues - the stork is so elegant but I must say that the ceiling with those fabulous mouldings is spectacular! Great crackle going on there too!! Loved this guided tour! Chrisx

sarascloset said...

So happy to be able to visit faraway places vicariously through you! I enjoyed the photos and the accompanying facts! Thank you for sharing your trip with us! And you can never have too much crackle! I wonder what medium they use?! Hugs!

Jenny Marples said...

Love that you found the crackle even here! It's when you get up close to so much of this architecture that the intricacy reveals itself and the aged look to the metalwork particularly sets my heart beating a little faster. Looking forward to more... xx