Sitting on the mottled bamboo chair, this lady glances down, absorbed by her private thoughts. She is surrounded by an array of treasures displayed on shelves including fine ceramics. For example, behind her is a Ru ware style brush washer, and a jade table screen; to her left (our right) is a red-glazed monks-cap ewer, and a bronze zun wine beaker. All identifiable as objects from the Kangxi and Yongzheng periods, these objects present the quintessential opulent style of the imperial household. These treasures not only add credibility to the authenticity of the scene, they also are used to convey the woman’s interest in antiquities.
Seated indoors on a couch and playing with a jade interlink, this lady is lost in thought while watching the pair of magpies that are calling outside. The artist means to show the woman’s happiness at the end of winter and the beginning of spring, but he also, perhaps inadvertently, conveys a sense of stifling solitude and utter loneliness that was the lot of many women in the palace. The screen behind her is inscribed with hundreds of different forms of the character for longevity. Although the message is to extend life hundreds of years, one feels she would willing trade the life of an immortal for the devoted pairing of Mandarin ducks.
Sitting next to a table in a study, this woman holds a fine enamel watch. On the table stands a vase with chrysanthemums, which indicates that the time is the eighth lunar month (early autumn). Elegant and lofty, the chrysanthemum is much appreciated in the autumn for its ability to resist the cold. Endowed with a hearty nature, it was associated with firm resolution and longevity, and was also appreciated for its simple beauty and refinement. It became the favored ornament to adorn both hair and rooms in the house. Behind her is hanging a scroll with a poem by the great Ming dynasty calligrapher Dong Qichang (1555-1636). The European astrolabe on the small table in the next room and the enamel watch that the woman holds in her hand are indications that Western objects were already becoming fashionable in the palace.
Sitting upright, slightly leaning on the table, and leisurely handling the prayer beads, this lady is watching two cats play on a windowsill. The painter has us view the interior of the room from outside the round window, so the focal interest in this painting is relatively small, but because the painter used western one-point perspective, the foreground, middle ground, and background are laid out systematically, which has the result of significantly expanding the sense of space and also extending the charm of the scene. The chime clock next to the lattice window is marking the passage of time as the cats play on the threshold of inner and outer space. In an ambiance of suspended activity, the days thus pass quietly.
Wearing a fur-lined surcoat, and with jade adorning her wrist, the lady in this painting holds a bronze mirror in one hand, while warming the other by gently resting it on a brazier. In the background, there is a hanging scroll inscribed by Hermit Pochen. Pochen (literally “defeating the dust of the world”) was the sobriquet that the Yongzheng emperor had adopted when he was still a prince. It implies that he aimed to be pure of heart and had few desires.
Gently holding back a curtain, a lady sits on a bed beside the window and admires the snowy scene and blossoming plum tree. Covered with frost and snow, the jade-green bamboo looks strong and fresh despite the cold. Celebrated in poetry for its life force (it blossoms in late winter before the snow has melted), the white winter sweet is favored not only for its beauty but also because the five petals of its blossom are associated with five blessings including happiness, good fortune, health, auspiciousness, and longevity.
by Xiao Xiao firstname.lastname@example.org
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