The Hill School’s sixth grade didn’t have to voyage to Beijing, China, to see imperial treasures from the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City. A bus ride to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond sufficed. Art teacher Linda Conti, looking ahead to the March 2015 Culture Study of China, booked tickets for the exhibition’s final week.
During a guided tour of the exhibit, VMFA docents emphasized that the artwork and artifacts in the exhibit had never before left China. The Chinese imperial treasures were exhibited in exchange for a loan of the VMFA’s extensive collection of Faberge eggs. Sixth graders gazed on Ming and Qing dynasty art, including huge silk paintings done with bamboo brushes, embroidered robes, jade chimes, an elaborate musical clock, a portable tea chest, and even a screen decorated with a bamboo pattern made of iridescent blue kingfisher feathers. They heard stories about learned emperors and an imperial concubine who rose to the position of regent. Next to her elegant portrait, in which she wears a silk robe and poses with her snuff box, the VMFA reproduced a quotation in which she compares herself favorably to Queen Victoria.
Leaving the exhibit, sixth graders entered a hands-on area in which they could make paper lanterns, play chimes, and observe a three-D printer creating small plastic models of the Forbidden City, building by building. Someday perhaps these students will visit the actual Forbidden City, a UNESCO heritage site which consists of the oldest preserved wooden structures in the world. Meanwhile, there’s a place in their imaginations for this cultural wonder.