In Brief

Taipei’s National Palace Museum Digitizes Its Entire Collection

The National Palace Museum Open Data represents the first time a museum has created such an archive of material from China’s imperial history.

Pages from a Qing Dynasty manual on deep sea creatures (all images courtesy National Palace Museum in Taipei)

Taipei’s National Palace Museum is most renowned for two unique and very tantalizing sculptures: a bok choy cabbage made of jade and a tiny, meat-shaped stone that resembles a generous slice of pork belly. And now, you can familiarize yourself with more jewels from its permanent collection of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts, as the museum recently created an online database of its 70,000-odd objects, images of which are freely available to download for scholarly or personal use.

19th-century Jadeite Cabbage

According to the BBC, the National Palace Museum Open Data represents the first time a museum has created such an archive of material from China’s imperial history. The National Palace Museum owns one of the largest troves of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts, from paintings to rare books to all sorts of objects made of jade, bronze, ceramic, and more.

You can access an English version of it, although that is currently a rather limited and incomplete resource — only over 2,000 objects are searchable, and none are accompanied by any context in English, which means you’ll have to do your own research if you want to learn more about a specific object. Most objects are also still identified in Chinese. Still, this version allows you to search the collection in English, by keyword as well as filter by object type and dynasty.

The Chinese version, on the other hand, features two portals to more efficiently comb through the museum’s relics. One is specifically for painting and calligraphy works; the other, for everything else. The search features for both are much more comprehensive, and clicking on an object will pull up its record.

Unknown artist, “A Palace Concert,” from the Tang Dynasty (618–907)

While the database in its current stage might not be the most helpful scholarly tool for researchers who do not speak Chinese, it’s still fascinating to explore. Among the gems I discovered were a Tang Dynasty painting of 10 court ladies drinking tea and wine around a table, beneath which rests a fuzzy canine; an album of sea creatures beautifully illustrated by one Nie Huang, who travelled China’s coastal areas for decades; and a very bizarre, Qing Dynasty-era manual of drawings depicting monstrous, deep sea creatures.

According to Chinese media website The Paper, the move was largely inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s own decision last year to release 375,000 images of works from its collection online for the public’s unrestricted use. The museum reportedly will add 500 photographs to the database annually.

Oblation vessel with turquoise inlay and gold filament, from the Eastern Chou period, Middle Warring States period (475–221 BCE)
Carved bamboo brush washer in the shape of a lotus leaf, from Chu San-hung, Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)
Nie Huang, leaf from “Rich and Varied Products of the Sea,” from the Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
High-stemmed jade cup from the Western Han period (206 BCE–8 CE)
Jade bear from the Qing Dynasty
White Pottery Gui Pitcher, from the Late Ta-wen-k’ou Culture (ca. 4200–2600 BC), Neolithic period


Ram’s-head Lei with Hooks and Dots, from the Late Yin period (1300–1046 BC)
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