The Imperial Birthday Celebration

The Imperial Birthday Celebration
Handscroll, ink and colour on silk
30 x 569.5 cm. (11 ¾ x 224 ¼ in.)
Without signature or seal
Further details
Emperor Jiaqing’s Decree:
A Preparatory Study for Kangxis Birthday Celebration

The sixtieth birthday of the Emperor Kangxi (the eighteenth day, third month of 1713) was a day of endless festivities and joy for all in the capital. To commemorate the spectacular events, a handscroll, which recorded all the festive details and scenes from the Gate of Divine Prowess in the north of the Forbidden City to the Garden of the Exuberant Spring situated in the south of the Old Summer Palace, was painted by the court artists led by Song Zhunye and subsequently Wang Yuanqi and his cousin Wang Yiqing. In 1717 a woodblock-print version, The First Imperial Birthday Celebration, was created based on the handscroll. And a revised print version was recorded in the Complete Books of the Four Repositories during the Qianlong period.

Sadly the handscroll, kept in the Palace of Heavenly Purity, was destroyed in the fire on the twenty-first day, tenth month of 1797, amongst other treasures. To make up for the loss and to soothe Qianlong’s sadness, Emperor Jiaqing issued a decree a month later to recreate the painting based on the books illustrations. Finally, two handscrolls, Kangxis Birthday Celebration and Qianlongs Eightieth Birthday Celebration, were completed in 1799.

The Imperial Birthday Celebration begins with the festive architecture built by the thirteen counties of Jiangnan: temporary shelters, opera stages, memorial archways, followed by the birthday greetings of all officials of the Eight Banners and respectable elders of Suzhou, etc. Then appears the royal palanquin of Kangxi enclosed by the guards, the grand ‘Happy Birthday Your Majesty’ structure, the lanterns-adorned opera areas and finally, sceneries of Xizhimen, the north-western gate of the capital. Compare to page 45-59, Volume 42 of The First Imperial Birthday Celebration (Fig. 1), this lot has identical details and hence, it is highly likely a preparatory study done by the Suzhou artisans in 1797 for the creation of Kangxis Birthday Celebration, now in The Palace Museum of Beijing.

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