Art Moment: “Court Ladies Preparing Silk” by Emperor Huizhong

“Court Ladies Preparing Silk”, Attributed to Emperor Huizong, Song dynasty, early 12th century, color and gold on silk, 38 x 466 cm. Copy of an original by Zhang Xuan of the Tang dynasty (618 – 907). Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Though China is renowned for its classical landscape paintings, its artists also excelled in depicting indoor scenes of great intimacy and historicity such as this masterpiece by Emperor Huizong (1062 – 1135) of the Song dynasty. Measuring 15-foot in length, it shows three groups of Tang court ladies blissfully engaged in making silk, a fabric coveted by the elites of China and for thousands of years. Appropriately, the work was executed on silk.

In the center of the painting, one lady is preparing thread and another is sewing while seated on a stool. On the right, four ladies are pounding the silk with wooden poles, and on the left, a third group is stretching and ironing the silk. The diamond-shaped arrangement of the ladies at both ends give the painting a three-dimensional feel. Enhancing the painting’s beauty is the delicate appearance of the ladies, which perfectly complements the intricate silk patterns that decorate their gowns.

Detail of “Court Ladies Preparing Silk”

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