Rare exhibits on display at West Lake Museum

Wu Huixin
The Hangzhou West Lake Museum reopened following a makeover and now houses 400 relics that highlight the historical significance of the West Lake.
Wu Huixin

The Hangzhou West Lake Museum reopened to the public after months of renovation and combing through its 17,000 collections. It now has 400 carefully selected antiquities that illustrate the historical significance of the West Lake.

That includes the exceptional ink-wash painting of Emperor Qianlong's "Map of the Detached Imperial Residence on the West Lake" (西湖行宫图), which shows the imperial residence and the spectacular scenery and historic sites on the West Lake centuries ago.

It is believed to be the only painting depicting the imperial family's visit to the West Lake during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The emperor visited the lake multiple times. The royal court commissioned the Hangzhou-native painter Guan Huai to create this work.

The painting was a crucial document while applying for the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2010, as it demonstrates that the layout and scenic attractions of the West Lake have remained unchanged for nearly two centuries.

The masterpiece was rarely displayed in exhibitions. As a result, the museum has attracted a swarm of visitors this time. It has customized a cabinet made of anti-reflective glass to enhance visitors' visual experience.

A group of eminent scholars have painted the West Lake in the past. Liu Songnian, who lived during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), is known for his opus "Landscape of the Four Seasons," which depicts an idyllic view of the West Lake. Traditional homes are surrounded by lush vegetation, and distant peaks are obscured by mist. It provides historians with a valuable archive for studying the lake's evolution.

This work belongs to the Palace Museum in Beijing and is also rarely exhibited. Now, the Hangzhou West Lake Museum is using multimedia technology to project the painting.

Rare exhibits on display at West Lake Museum
Ti Gong

The painting of the royal family's visit to the West Lake during the reign of Emperor Qianlong is being displayed in a customized glass cabinet, which provides the audience with a crystal clear view.

The works of both Liu and Guan feature only a few strokes and a great deal of blank space, presenting a simple, unadorned style with a poetic quality. The small proportion of human figures in these paintings emphasizes man's insignificance in comparison to nature and the painters' disinterest in life.

The museum is also displaying a lacquered screen from the Qing Dynasty that depicts the West Lake's scenic attractions. Late in the 18th century, Chinese-style lacquered furniture was in demand abroad.

During that time, furniture from China was a luxury that only the wealthy could afford. This centuries-old piece, which measures 5 meters in length and 3 meters in height, was discovered in Spain many years ago.

In the past, lacquer sap was used to varnish and preserve daily necessities. Lacquer-coated objects were resistant to moisture, heat and corrosion, and were glossy and smooth.

The screen was coated with roughly 100 layers of lacquer that had been dried, smoothed and polished, making it thick enough to be carved with patterns. Scenes were then carved into lacquer and sealed with additional lacquers to create a smooth, glossy surface.

Rare exhibits on display at West Lake Museum
Ti Gong

A sarira reliquary unearthed from the Leifeng Pagoda

This screen's engraving technique is known as kehui (刻灰), and consists of carving patterns into the screen's dense surface and embedding lacquer in its veins. This ability, however, has been lost to history, which makes the screen a valuable resource for historians studying ancient art.

The museum has also dedicated space to Su Shi's (1037-1101) life in Hangzhou in addition to the West Lake exhibits.

Su, a prominent poet, writer and calligrapher, was the most influential of Hangzhou's many administrators who have contributed to the city's reputation over the years.

Su left behind a legacy of many accomplishments in the city, including the dredging of the West Lake and the construction of a causeway. The Su Causeway, or Sudi, still bears his name today.

The museum is displaying 300 antiques brought on loan from museums in Beijing, and Sichuan, Liaoning, Henan and Jiangsu provinces. Visitors can retrace the steps of the former governor around the West Lake.

Rare exhibits on display at West Lake Museum
Ti Gong

Gold hairpins in the shape of phoenixes dating back to the Song Dynasty



If you go

Date: Through December 15 (closed on Tuesdays), 9am-5pm

Admission: Free

Address: 89 Nanshan Rd

南山路89号

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