Unidentified Artist (Chinese, 10th century)
Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
Ex. coll.: C. C. Wang Family
Promised Gift of the Oscar L. Tang Family (L.1997.24.2)
This large painting, possibly a fragment of an even larger composition that was originally mounted as a freestanding screen, appears to be one of the earliest surviving examples of the "ruled-line" (jiehua) genre of architectural rendering.
The painting offers an intimate view of the women's quarters of an imposing palace where rooms furnished with beds, couches, and painted screens look out onto a series of private courtyards graced with plantains, bamboo, and ornamental trees. Blossoming lotus and hollyhocks and girls chasing butterflies indicate the summer season. At the upper right, a lady and her serving girl have unlocked the compound's outer gate in anticipation of a guest's arrival. But the center of activity is a second-story terrace where tables have been set with dishes and serving vessels in front of a draped altar. Musical instruments still in their cloth covers have been readied in the adjacent pavilion. One of the women assembled around the table points skyward; two other women concentrate on threading needlespossible clues to the painting's subject. On the seventh day of the seventh month, women traditionally decorated their dwellings, set out fruits, and competed in threading needles as part of the festivities celebrating the one night each year when the Herd Boy and Weaving Maid, legendary lovers immortalized as constellations, are allowed to meet.
Both the figures and the architecture are depicted in an intentionally archaistic manner. The ladies wear eighth-century fashions; palace halls evoke an even earlier era. But anachronisms in the treatment of the roof ornaments, balustrades, and serving vessels all point to a tenth-century datean era when the revival of High Tang (618907) painting styles was much in vogue.