Curio cabinets, or duobaoge in Chinese, are among the most compelling holdings of the National Palace Museum. They appear in various forms, from boxes of miniature curios of different materials to chests of art objects that occupy and decorate an entire wall. Besides the diversity and richness of the artifacts stored therein, curio cabinets are also known for the practical and convenient use of limited space to serve the purposes of decorating and amusing. These cabinets are in themselves a world of play, a space for aesthetic appreciation and spiritual delight, realized through the clever amassment, smart storage, and elegant presentation of the objects.
In the past, duobaoge referred specifically to the wall cabinets of art objects in the Qianqinggong, or Palace of Heavenly Purity, in the Forbidden City. The term duobao, meaning many treasures, conforms to the idea of housing treasured collections. At the National Palace Museum duobaoge (cabinet of many treasures) is applied collectively to include both the ge (cabinets), open-shelf chests of art objects or curiosities, and the baishijian (tens and hundreds of articles) curio boxes constructed to maximize the storage of the largest number of artifacts. Terminology aside, what is worth noting is the craftsmen’s ingenuity in integrated design and space arrangement for storage and display.
The collection, storage, and display of artifacts are the core elements in the design and production of curio cabinets, and it is around these three themes that the exhibition is organized. Addressing the matter of collecting, the first section showcases a number of curio boxes with titles, names given to groups of miniature curios by their collectors. Focusing on the aspect of storage, the second section presents seven curio boxes of various types to stress the designers’ dexterity with spatial management in holding as many artifacts as the space allows, offering the collectors the pleasure of treasure hunting. The third section features curio cabinets of different sizes in an open-shelf context to reinterpret the purposes of collection building by examining the collector’s sentiment for assembling and exhibiting. The presentation will also help the audience to explore the pleasant surprises brought on by space designers of earlier times.