Rare Prints and Photographs of the Forbidden City Now on Display in the Second Drafting Room

Now on display in the Second Drafting Room of the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio is an exhibit of prints and photographs from three rare portfolios entitled The Decoration of the Palace Buildings of Peking and Photographs of the Palace Buildings of Peking. The portfolios are part of the Archives collection of large format art and architecture-related works acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Dow over the years.

In the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Imperial University of Tokyo established a commission in 1901 to study and record details of the construction, architecture, and decorative features of the buildings within the Forbidden City and Palace grounds. This was an unprecedented accomplishment that unveiled a previously secret and private complex of buildings completely unknown outside of China. The three portfolios were printed in limited editions in 1906.

Along one wall of the Second Drafting Room is a selection of 10 framed hand-colored prints depicting a variety of decorative features of the palace buildings, ranging from geometric patterns of the coffered ceilings and beams to animal forms.  Also included are delicate watercolors of two of the palace buildings.


The display cases opposite the prints feature 31 photographs and three photo panoramas from the 172 photographs housed in two portfolios. They show the exteriors and interiors of a number of buildings, as well as gates, towers, stairways, statuary, doors, ceilings, and other architectural elements from a variety of perspectives. The sepia-toned photographs were printed using gelatin-coated collotype plates, a very early printing process that produced beautiful tonal images. For photographs that were printed over a century ago, the detail and clarity are as remarkable as the subject matter.

The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday–Friday from 9am–4pm.

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