Beauty about to bathe

Unidentified artist

Not on view

Partially clad in a diaphanous robe, a woman with an elaborate coiffure perches on the edge of a bamboo couch. A red candle burning in a sconce indicates that the time is evening. A basin of blossoming orchids at her right may symbolize hidden beauty, seductive fragrance, or scholarly talent, while the books at the woman’s right elbow bespeak her learning. At bottom left, a bath is being filled, seemingly by an unseen attendant who assists from offstage.

The picture is risqué in several respects. The sheer robe, decorated with a translucent pattern of bamboo, reveals much of the woman’s body, including her breasts and legs. Her bound feet—a highly charged erotic theme in premodern Chinese literature and art—are emphasized by her red shoes. More subtle but perhaps equally outré is the open-mouthed expression of the beauty, which reveals her bare teeth, an exceptionally rare and provocative feature for a premodern Chinese figure painting.

Beauty about to bathe, Unidentified artist  , Chinese, 18th century, Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk, China

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