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Admonitions Scroll

Admonitions Scroll

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The Admonitions Scroll is a Chinese narrative painting on silk that is traditionally ascribed to Gu Kaizhi
Gu Kaizhi
Gu Kaizhi , is a celebrated painter of ancient China. His style name was 'Changkang' . He was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu province and first painted at Nanjing in 364. In 366, he became an officer . Later he was promoted to royal officer . He was also a talented poet and calligrapher...

 , but which modern scholarship regards as a 5th to 8th century work that may or may not be a copy of an original Jin Dynasty (265–420) court painting by Gu Kaizhi. The full title of the painting is Admonitions of the Court Instructress . It was painted to illustrate a poetic text written in 292 by the poet-official Zhang Hua
Zhang Hua
Zhang Hua , style name Maoxian , was a Jin Dynasty official and poet. He was a native of Fangcheng County, Zhili.-Background:...

 張華 (232–300). The text itself was composed to reprimand Empress Jia
Empress Jia Nanfeng
Empress Jia Nanfeng , nickname Shi , of the Jin Dynasty was the daughter of Jia Chong and first wife of Emperor Hui...

 賈后 (257–300) and to provide advice to the women in the imperial court. The painting illustrates this text with scenes depicting anecdotes about exemplary behaviour of historical palace ladies, as well as with more general scenes showing aspects of life as a palace lady.

The painting, which is now held at the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, is one of the earliest extant examples of a Chinese handscroll painting, and is renowned as one of the most famous Chinese paintings in the world. The painting is first recorded during the latter part of the Northern Song (960–1127), when it was in the collection of Emperor Huizong of Song (r. 1100–1126). It passed through the hands of many collectors over the centuries, many of whom left their seals of ownership on the painting, and it eventually become a treasured possession of the Qianlong Emperor
Qianlong Emperor
The Qianlong Emperor was the sixth emperor of the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper. The fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, he reigned officially from 11 October 1735 to 8 February 1796...

 (r. 1735–1796). In 1899, during the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion
Boxer Rebellion
The Boxer Rebellion, also called the Boxer Uprising by some historians or the Righteous Harmony Society Movement in northern China, was a proto-nationalist movement by the "Righteous Harmony Society" , or "Righteous Fists of Harmony" or "Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists" , in China between...

, the painting was acquired by an officer in the British Indian Army
British Indian Army
The British Indian Army, officially simply the Indian Army, was the principal army of the British Raj in India before the partition of India in 1947...

 who sold it to the British Museum. The scroll is incomplete, lacking the first three of the twelve original scenes, which were probably lost at an early date. A monochrome paper scroll copy of the painting, complete in twelve scenes, was made during the Southern Song (1127–1279), and is now in the collection of the Palace Museum
Forbidden City
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum...

 in Beijing
Beijing
Beijing , also known as Peking , is the capital of the People's Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of 19,612,368 as of 2010. The city is the country's political, cultural, and educational center, and home to the headquarters for most of China's...

, China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

.

The painting was part of the 2010 BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

 series, A History of the World in 100 Objects
A History of the World in 100 Objects
A History of the World in 100 Objects was a joint project of BBC Radio 4 and the British Museum, comprising a 100-part radio series written and presented by British Museum director Neil MacGregor...

, as item 39.

Background


The Admonitions Scroll was painted to illustrate an eighty-line poetic text written in the year 292 by the Jin Dynasty official, Zhang Hua
Zhang Hua
Zhang Hua , style name Maoxian , was a Jin Dynasty official and poet. He was a native of Fangcheng County, Zhili.-Background:...

 (232–300). Zhang Hua wrote his Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies as a didactic text aimed at Empress Jia
Empress Jia Nanfeng
Empress Jia Nanfeng , nickname Shi , of the Jin Dynasty was the daughter of Jia Chong and first wife of Emperor Hui...

 (257–300), consort of Emperor Hui of Jin
Emperor Hui of Jin
Emperor Hui of Jin, sim. ch. 晋惠帝, trad. ch. 晉惠帝, py. jìn huì dì, wg. Chin Hui-ti , personal name Sima Zhong , courtesy name Zhengdu , was the second emperor of the Jin Dynasty...

 (r. 290–301), whose violent and immoral behaviour was outraging the court.

It is not known when the first painting in illustration to Zhang Hua's text was made, but a lacquer
Lacquer
In a general sense, lacquer is a somewhat imprecise term for a clear or coloured varnish that dries by solvent evaporation and often a curing process as well that produces a hard, durable finish, in any sheen level from ultra matte to high gloss and that can be further polished as required...

 screen painting from the tomb of a Northern Wei
Northern Wei
The Northern Wei Dynasty , also known as the Tuoba Wei , Later Wei , or Yuan Wei , was a dynasty which ruled northern China from 386 to 534 . It has been described as "part of an era of political turbulence and intense social and cultural change"...

 Dynasty (386–535) official by the name of Sima Jinlong (司馬金龍, died 484) that was excavated in 1986. It includes a panel illustrating the story of Lady Ban refusing to ride in the imperial litter, which corresponds to Scene 5 of the Admonitions Scroll. Although the text accompanying the lacquer painting is not from Zhang Hua's Admonitions, the painting does indicate that anecdotes recorded in Zhang Hua's text were used as subject matter for artists not long after Gu Kaizhi's death.

It has been suggested that the original Admonitions Scroll may have been commissioned by the Jin Dynasty imperial court in order to express the dismay of the court officials to the murder of Emperor Xiaowu of Jin
Emperor Xiaowu of Jin
Emperor Xiaowu of Jin , personal name Sima Yao , courtesy name Changming , was an emperor of the Eastern Jin Dynasty in China...

 (r. 372–396) by his consort, Lady Zhang (張貴人), who was never brought to justice.

Authorship and dating


Although the painting is traditionally attributed to Gu Kaizhi, the painting is not signed or sealed by the artist, and there is no record of Gu Kaizhi having painted such a painting in his biography or in any work which is contemporaneous with his life. The earliest mention of the painting is by the Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

 painter and poet, Mi Fu
Mi Fu
Mi Fu , also known as Mi Fei , was a Chinese painter, poet, and calligrapher born in Taiyuan, Shanxi during the Song Dynasty. In painting he gained renown for his style of painting misty landscapes. This style would be deemed the "Mi Fu" style and involved the use of large wet dots of ink applied...

 (1051–1107), who records in his History of Painting (compiled 1103) that the Admonitions Scroll was in the collection of a palace eunuch by the name of Liu Youfang. Crucially, he also attributes the painting to Gu Kaizhi, but it is not clear whether this attribution was based on documentary evidence or whether this was simply his opinion based on the style of the painting. The next reference to the painting occurs in the Xuanhe Painting Manual, which is a catalogue of paintings in the collection of Emperor Huizong of Song (r. 1100–1126) that was compiled in 1120. The manual records the Admonitions Scroll as one of nine paintings in the imperial collection by Gu Kaizhi. This imperial authentication of the painting meant that no-one seriously doubted that the Admonitions Scroll was a work by Gu Kaizhi until modern times.

The first suggestion that the painting was not an original Gu Kaizhi painting, but a Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 (618–907) copy, was made in a book written by Hu Jing (胡敬, 1769–1845) in 1816. However, it was not until the 20th century that art historians determined on stylistic grounds that the painting cannot have been produced during the Jin Dynasty, and therefore cannot be an original work by Gu Kaizhi. However, there is considerable divergence of opinion between experts as to when and where the painting was made, and whether it is based on an earlier work by Gu Kaizhi or not. The prevalent opinion until recently has been that the painting was a copy of a Gu Kaizhi painting produced during the Sui Dynasty
Sui Dynasty
The Sui Dynasty was a powerful, but short-lived Imperial Chinese dynasty. Preceded by the Southern and Northern Dynasties, it ended nearly four centuries of division between rival regimes. It was followed by the Tang Dynasty....

 (581–618) or early Tang Dynasty. A supporter of this point of view is Chen Pao-chen of National Taiwan University
National Taiwan University
National Taiwan University is a national co-educational university located in Taipei, Republic of China . In Taiwan, it is colloquially known as "Táidà" . Its main campus is set upon 1,086,167 square meters in Taipei's Da'an District. In addition, the university has 6 other campuses in Taiwan,...

, who believes that the original painting must have been painted prior to 484 as she thinks that the scene of Lady Ban on the lacquer screen from the tomb of Sima Jinlong (died 484) must have been modelled on the same scene on the original Admonitions Scroll; but on the basis of what she sees as copyist's errors in the details of the British Museum scroll, she concludes that the extant painting is a Tang Dynasty copy of an earlier work, probably by Gu Kaizhi.

On the other hand, an increasing number of experts have rejected the supposed copyist's errors, and see the painting as a product of the preceding Southern and Northern Dynasties
Southern and Northern Dynasties
The Southern and Northern Dynasties was a period in the history of China that lasted from 420 to 589 AD. Though an age of civil war and political chaos, it was also a time of flourishing arts and culture, advancement in technology, and the spreading of Mahayana Buddhism and Daoism...

 period (420–589). One often mentioned example of a supposed copyist's error is the apparently confused representation of the palanquin frame in the scene of Lady Ban; but recent ultra-violet examination of the scroll has shown that there has been considerable repainting over a repair to damaged silk in this area.

An advocate of a pre-Tang date for the painting is Wen C. Fong, emeritus professor of Chinese art history at Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

, who has argued that the scroll was made by an anonymous painter at the Nanjing
Nanjing
' is the capital of Jiangsu province in China and has a prominent place in Chinese history and culture, having been the capital of China on several occasions...

 court of one of the Southern dynasties
Southern dynasties
The Southern dynasties comprise the Liu Song, Southern Qi, Liang Dynasty and Chen Dynasty, whose capital were at Jiankang , and Emperor Yuan of Liang, as well as the later Western Liang emperors , also set their...

 (420–589) during the 6th century, and that although the painting was a copy of a Gu Kaizhi painting, it was heavily influenced by the painting techniques of Zhang Sengyou (active c. 490–540) and Lu Tanwei. A somewhat different hypothesis has been advanced by Yang Xin, a professor at Peking University
Peking University
Peking University , colloquially known in Chinese as Beida , is a major research university located in Beijing, China, and a member of the C9 League. It is the first established modern national university of China. It was founded as Imperial University of Peking in 1898 as a replacement of the...

, who argues on the basis of artistic style and calligraphy that the painting must have been produced at the court of Emperor Xiaowen
Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei
Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei , personal name né Tuoba Hong , later Yuan Hong , was an emperor of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei....

 (r. 471–499) of the Northern Wei
Northern Wei
The Northern Wei Dynasty , also known as the Tuoba Wei , Later Wei , or Yuan Wei , was a dynasty which ruled northern China from 386 to 534 . It has been described as "part of an era of political turbulence and intense social and cultural change"...

 dynasty (386–535), and furthermore that the painting was an original commission by Emperor Xiaowen, not a copy of an earlier composition by Gu Kaizhi or anyone else.

The calligraphy of Zhang Hua's text inscribed on the painting has also been extensively used as dating evidence for the painting. The calligraphy was once thought to be by Gu Kaizhi's contemporary, the famous calligrapher Wang Xianzhi (344–388), or by Gu Kaizhi himself, but modern scholarly opinion is that the calligraphy was probably added by an anonymous court calligrapher at the same time that the painting was made or at some time later. However, as with the painting, there are widely divergent opinions about when exactly the text was inscribed on the scroll. At one extreme, Kohara Hironobu has suggested that the text was not added to the scroll until after 1075, using a deliberately antique Tang dynasty calligraphic style, whereas more recently Wen Fong has stated that the calligraphy of the Admonitions Scroll is more closely related to the style of the monk Zhiyong 智永 who was active during the late 6th and early 7th century, and so the text would have been added during the late 6th century at a Southern dynasty court scriptorium. Other experts have dated the calligraphy even earlier, to the 5th or early 6th century.

Palace Museum copy



In addition to the scroll now held at the British Museum, a copy of the painting made during the Song Dynasty is held at the Palace Museum
Forbidden City
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum...

 in Beijing. This monochrome painting on paper is believed to have been copied from the British Museum scroll during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong of Song
Emperor Xiaozong of Song
Emperor Xiaozong was the eleventh emperor of the Song Dynasty of China, and the second emperor of the Southern Song. His personal name was Zhao Shen. He reigned from 1162 to 1189. His temple name means "Filial Ancestor"....

 (r. 1162–1189). Unlike the British Museum copy, which is missing the first three scenes, the Palace Museum copy is complete in twelve scenes. However, as the first three scenes of the Palace Museum copy are not as detailed or complex as the other scenes on the scroll, it is possible that the British Museum scroll had already lost the three initial scenes by the time that it was copied in the 12th century, and thus the first three scenes may have been imaginative reconstructions by the court painter who made the Palace Museum copy.

Makeup of the scroll


The scroll comprises nine scenes of the original twelve scenes that made up the painting attributed to Gu Kaizhi, and a number of appended items that used to be attached to it at either end. The scroll is now flat mounted on two stretchers, with one separate album leaf:
  • The nine scenes of the original painting, 25.0 cm in height and 348.5 cm in length;
  • The end sections and appended material other than the Zou Yigui painting, 25.0 cm in height and 329.0 cm in length;
  • The painting by Zou Yigui, 24.8 cm in height and 74.0 cm in length.


The makeup of the scroll before it was remounted by the British Museum was:
  • Blue brocade outer wrapper added when the scroll was remounted for the Qianlong Emperor in 1746, with a buff title-slip inscribed "Gu Kaizhi's painting of the Admonitions of the Instructress, with text, an authentic relic — a precious work of art of the Inner Palace, divine class" (顧愷之畫女史箴並書真蹟,內府珍玩神品) in Qianlong's calligraphy
  • Song dynasty silk tapestry
    K'o-ssu
    K'o-ssu is a style of Chinese silk tapestry, admired for its lightness and clarity of pattern."K'o-ssu" means "cut silk", a name that comes from the appearance of cut threads created by the use of colour in the pictorial designs typical of the style...

     with a design of a peony
    Peony
    Peony or paeony is a name for plants in the genus Paeonia, the only genus in the flowering plant family Paeoniaceae. They are native to Asia, southern Europe and western North America...

     among hydrangea
    Hydrangea
    Hydrangea is a genus of about 70 to 75 species of flowering plants native to southern and eastern Asia and North and South America. By far the greatest species diversity is in eastern Asia, notably China, Japan, and Korea...

    s from an early wrapper to the scroll (possibly from a mounting of the painting made for Emperor Huizong of Song)
  • Silk title inscription in Qianlong's calligraphy comprising three large Chinese characters meaning "Fragrance of a red reed"
  • Silk end section with a number of seal impressions (possibly from a Song Dynasty mounting of the painting)
  • Yellow silk with a drawing of an orchid and accompanying inscription, both by Qianlong
  • Nine scenes of the original silk painting attributed to Gu Kaizhi
  • Silk end section with a number of seal impressions (possibly from a Song Dynasty mounting of the painting)
  • Painting of an orchid by Qianlong on a piece of yellow silk from a Song Dynasty mounting of the painting
  • Transcription of the text on silk of the last two admonitions in the calligraphy of Emperor Zhangzong of Jin
  • Colophon on silk by Xiang Yuanbian (1525–1590)
  • Long colophon on silk by Qianlong
  • Painting on silk entitled Pine, Bamboo, Rock and Spring (松竹石泉) by Zou Yigui
    Zou Yigui
    Zou Yigui , style name as Yuanbao , sobriquet as Xiaoshan and Erzhi , is a famed Chinese painter in Qing Dynasty. He was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province....

     (1686–1772), commissioned by Qianlong

Description


The British Museum copy of the painting has lost the three initial scenes at the right of the scroll, so the description of these scenes below is based on the Palace Museum copy, even though it is possible that these scenes are not copied from the original picture but are imaginative reconstructions.

The twelve scenes of the scroll are ordered as follows:
  • Scene 1 — an introductory scene;
  • Scenes 2–5 — four scenes illustrating stories about the exemplary behaviour of famous palace ladies from history;
  • Scene 6 — a mountain scene which separates the preceding scenes depicting anecdotes from the following scenes of palace life;
  • Scenes 7–11 — five scenes that follow the life of a palace lady;
  • Scene 12 — a concluding scene that shows the Court Instructress writing her admonitions.


The corresponding quotation from Zhang Hua's text is placed to the right of each scene.

Scene 1: Introduction


茫茫造化,二儀既分。
散氣流形,既陶既甄。
在帝庖羲,肇經天人。
爰始夫婦,以及君臣。
家道以正,王猷有倫。
婦德尚柔,含章貞吉。
婉嫕淑慎,正位居室。
施衿結褵,虔恭中饋。
肅慎爾儀,式瞻清懿。

In the boundlessness of creation, yin and yang
Yin and yang
In Asian philosophy, the concept of yin yang , which is often referred to in the West as "yin and yang", is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. Opposites thus only...

 separated out.
Scattered qi
Qi
In traditional Chinese culture, qì is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts...

 and flowing substance were moulded and shaped.
At the time of Emperor Fu Xi, heaven and human were first divided.
Thus began the relationship of husband and wife, as well as that of lord and minister.
The way of the household is regulated, the plans of the ruler are ordered.
A woman's virtue values gentleness; she conceals beauty within, and is pure and perfect.
Gentle and meek, virtuous and careful, her proper place is in the chamber.
When she gets married the girl arranges her robes and ties up her apron; respectfully she prepares the household meals.
Solemn and dignified in bearing, with pure virtue she gazes up reverently.


The introductory scene in the Palace Museum copy, missing in the British Museum copy, simply shows a man in court dress and a woman facing each other, representing the basic theme of the painting, that is the role of women in feudal society and the proper relationship between man and woman. The image is disturbed by a line of text from Zhang Hua's Admonitions text awkwardly placed in between the two figures, but as this line should go with the following scene, it has been taken as evidence that the first three scenes in the Palace Museum copy are not entirely modeled upon the original.

Scene 2: Lady Fan


樊姬感莊,不食鮮禽。

Lady Fan, in order to move King Zhuang, would eat neither fish nor fowl.


This scene illustrates the story of Lady Fan, a consort of King Zhuang of Chu
King Zhuang of Chu
King Zhuāng of Chǔ was a monarch of the Zhou Dynasty vassal State of Chu during the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history...

 (died 591 BC), who remonstrated against her husband's excessive hunting and lavish banqueting by refusing to eat the meat of any of the animals he killed for three years. The Palace Museum copy of the painting shows Lady Fan kneeling in front of an empty table, with ritual food vessels
Chinese bronzes
Bronzes are some of the most important pieces of Chinese art, warranting an entire separate catalogue in the Imperial art collections. The Chinese Bronze Age began in the Xia Dynasty, and bronze ritual containers form the bulk of the collection of Chinese antiques, reaching its zenith during the...

 standing conspicuously empty and unused nearby.

Scene 3: The Lady of Wei


衛女矯桓,耳忘和音。
志厲義高,而二主易心。

The lady from Wei, in order to reform Duke Huan, made her ears forget the harmonious sounds.
They had strict aspirations and a lofty sense of righteousness, and so the two lords undertook a change of heart.


This scene illustrates the story of the Lady of Wei, a consort of Duke Huan of Qi (died 643 BC), who remonstrated against her husband's love of licentious music by refusing to listen to such music, even though she herself was a great musical talent. The Palace Museum copy of the painting shows the Lady of Wei listening to morally uplifting ritual court music played on sets of bells
Bianzhong
Bianzhong is an ancient Chinese musical instrument consisting of a set of bronze bells, played melodically. These sets of chime bells were used as polyphonic musical instruments and some of these bells have been dated at between 2,000 to 3,600 years old. They were hung in a wooden frame and...

 and chimes
Bianqing
The bianqing is an ancient Chinese musical instrument consisting of a set of L-shaped flat stone chimes, played melodically. The chimes were hung in a wooden frame and struck with a mallet...

, which would have been very different to the immoderate and perhaps immodest musical performances her husband preferred.

Scene 4: Lady Feng and the bear


玄熊攀檻,馮媛趍進。
夫豈無畏?知死不恡!

When a black bear climbed out of its cage, Lady Feng rushed forward.
How could she have been without fear? She knew she might be killed, yet she did not care.


This scene illustrates the story of Lady Feng
Consort Feng Yuan
Consort Feng Yuan was an imperial consort during China's Han Dynasty. She was a favorite of Emperor Yuan. She was viewed largely positively for her heroism and humility, and viewed sympathetically for her death at the hand of her romantic rival Consort Fu.-Family background:It is not known when...

, a consort of Emperor Yuan of Han
Emperor Yuan of Han
Emperor Yuan of Han was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty. He reigned from 48 BC to 33 BC. Emperor Yuan was remembered for the promotion of Confucianism as the official creed of Chinese government. He appointed Confucius adherents to important government posts...

 (r. 48–33 BC), who in 38 BC placed herself in the path of a bear that had escaped from its cage during a wild animal fight show before the emperor, in an attempt to save the emperor's life — the bear was killed by the guards, and Lady Feng survived. This is the first surviving scene in the British Museum copy (although the accompanying text is missing), and it shows Lady Feng confronting the bear, but being saved just in time by two guards with spears, and the emperor and two court ladies watching in horror on one side. The lady on the left of the scene is believed to be Lady Fu, who is noted to have run away from the bear in the biography of Lady Feng in the History of the Latter Han, thus indicating that the artist did not base the painting solely on Zhang Hua's text.

It is interesting to compare this scene in the two copies of the painting. Although they are very similar with regards to the layout and postures of the figures, the Palace Museum version (upper image) is much more spread out, with a large gap between the attacking bear and Lady Feng, which makes the scene much less dramatic than the British Museum copy. Furthermore, in the Palace Museum copy, Lady Fu is on the other side of the inscription for the following scene, thereby making her an unexplained appendix to the story of Lady Ban, and at the same time destroying the intended contrast between the courageousness of Lady Feng and the cowardice of Lady Fu.

Scene 5: Lady Ban refuses to ride in the imperial litter


班妾有辭,割驩同輦。
夫豈不懷?防微慮遠!

Lady Ban voiced her refusal, and thereby cut herself off from the joys of riding together in the palanquin.
How could she have not minded? But to avoid the slightest suspicion she kept her distance.


This scene illustrates the story of Lady Ban
Consort Ban
Consort Ban called Ban Jieyu . Jieyu was a title for a concubine, her personal name is not known.-Life:Consort Ban started as a junior maid, became a concubine of Emperor Cheng and quickly rose to prominence at court. She bore him two sons, but both died in infancy...

, consort of Emperor Cheng of Han
Emperor Cheng of Han
Emperor Cheng of Han was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty ruling from 33 BC until 7 BC.Under Emperor Cheng, the Han dynasty continued its slide into disintegration while the Wang clan continued its slow grip on power and on governmental affairs as promoted by the previous emperor...

 (r. 33–7 BC), who refused to ride in the palanquin
Litter (vehicle)
The litter is a class of wheelless vehicles, a type of human-powered transport, for the transport of persons. Examples of litter vehicles include lectica , jiao [较] , sedan chairs , palanquin , Woh , gama...

 with her husband as she said that paintings of wise rulers always showed them in the company of their ministers, whereas paintings of decadent rulers always showed them in the company of their wives and concubines, and so it would be inappropriate for her to be seen in public with the emperor. The painting shows the emperor being carried in a palanquin, and Lady Ban conspicuously walking behind. This scene is similar in construction to the painting of the same story on the lacquer screen from the tomb of Sima Jinlong (died 484), but whereas the lacquer painting shows Emperor Cheng alone in the palanquin, in the Admonitions Scroll another court lady is seated beside him, showing that he ignored the advise of Lady Ban, and highlighting that fact that his behaviour as emperor was seen to be responsible for the seizure of power by Wang Mang
Wang Mang
Wang Mang , courtesy name Jujun , was a Han Dynasty official who seized the throne from the Liu family and founded the Xin Dynasty , ruling AD 9–23. The Han dynasty was restored after his overthrow and his rule marks the separation between the Western Han Dynasty and Eastern Han Dynasty...

 (45 BC – 23 AD) in 9 AD.

Scene 6: The mountain and hunter


道罔隆而不殺,物無盛而不衰。
日中則昃,月滿則微。
崇猶塵積,替若駭機。

It is the way that nothing exalted is not cast down low; of living things there are none that having flourished do not fade away.
When the sun is at its highest it sinks; when the moon is at its fullest it wanes.
Esteem and honour are as perilous as a pile of dust, decline and fall are as sudden as a crossbow shot.


This scene departs from the pattern of the previous scenes, which illustrated anecdotes at specific historical figures, as the text presents general observations about the impermanence of fame and glory. The painting depicts the last four lines of the quoted text, showing a triangular mountain (a pile of dust) set between the sun (inhabited by a Three-legged crow
Three-legged bird
The three-legged crow is a creature found in various mythologies and arts of Asia, Asia Minor, and North Africa. It is believed by many cultures to inhabit and represent the sun....

) to its right and the full moon (inhabited by a rabbit
Moon rabbit
The Moon rabbit, also called the Jade Rabbit, in folklore is a rabbit that lives on the moon, based on pareidolia that identifies the markings of the moon as a rabbit. The story exists in many cultures, particularly in East Asian folklore, where it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle...

 or a toad) to its left, covered with birds and animals, and with a hunter taking aim at a tiger with his crossbow.

Examination of the painting under ultra-violet has shown that almost all of the mountain (all except for the lower left corner) has been damaged and repaired, which suggests that this central scene was the most studied and handled part of the scroll, perhaps due to the greater critical value placed on landscape painting over figure painting by Ming and Qing dynasty art connoisseurs.

Scene 7: The toilette scene


人咸知飾其容,而莫知飾其性。
性之不飾,或愆禮正。
斧之藻之,克念作聖。

All people know how to ornament their appearance, but none know how to ornament their nature.
If one's nature is not ornamented, rites and proper behaviour will become confused and erroneous.
Chop it and embellish it; overcome your thoughts to make yourself holy.


In contrast to the tense action of the previous scene, this scene is one of calmness and stillness, showing the palace ladies at their toilette. The focus of the scene is on a lady sitting in front of a bronze mirror, and with a set of nested lacquer boxes laid out to the side. Behind her, another lady helps comb her hair. To the right another lady, facing away from the viewer, looks into a mirror held in her hand, which reflects the lady's visage back to the viewer. The two mirrors in this scene are perhaps intended to be more than just tools for helping with make-up, but mirrors into the souls of the ladies, reflecting their inner nature as much as their external appearance.

Scene 8: The bedroom scene


出其言善,千里應之。
苟違斯義,則同衾以疑。

If the words you utter are good, people will respond from a thousand leagues away.
If you offend against this principle, then even your bedfellow will view you with suspicion.


This scene takes the oblique reference to sharing a bed in the text of Zhang Hua as the subject, showing the emperor visiting one of his consorts in her bed chamber. However, sitting uneasily on the edge of bed, his feet firmly planted on the floor, he looks across at the lady, as if uncertain whether to enter or not. The body language of the lady, leaning back against the screen in one corner of the bed, is equally lacking in intimacy.

Scene 9: The family scene


夫出言如微,而榮辱由茲。
勿謂幽昧,靈監無象。
勿謂玄漠,神聽無響。
無矜爾榮,天道惡盈。
無恃爾貴,隆隆者墜。
鑒於小星,戒彼攸遂。
比心螽斯,則繁爾類。

Words are so lightly spoken, yet glory and shame result from them.
Do not think they are dim and dark, for the spiritual looks down on that which casts no shadow.
Do not think they are empty and silent, for the divine hears that which make no sound.
Do not be proud of your honours, for the way of heaven abhors that which is replete.
Do not rely on your nobility, for he who reaches to the highest heights must fall.
Model yourself on the lesser stars, which avoid travelling far.
Keep your heart close to the bush-crickets
Tettigoniidae
The family Tettigoniidae, known in American English as katydids and in British English as bush-crickets, contains more than 6,400 species. It is part of the suborder Ensifera and the only family in the superfamily Tettigonioidea. They are also known as long-horned grasshoppers, although they are...

, and thereby multiply your kind.


This scene takes the last line of the long quotation from Zhang Hua's text as its subject, showing the emperor surrounded by his wives and children, the group forming a triangular formation reminiscent of the mountain in Scene 6. At first sight, the family group suggests stability and permanence, but the viewer may be expected to remember the earlier reference to the fragility and impermanence of a mountain made of dust, and realise that these familial relationships can collapse just as suddenly.

Scene 10: The rejection scene


驩不可以黷,寵不可以專。
專實生慢,愛極則遷。
致盈必損,理有固然。
美者自美,翩以取尤。
冶容求好,君子所讎。
結恩而絕,職此之由。

Happiness cannot be defiled, affection cannot be prejudiced.
Prejudice results in disdain; if love is taken to the extreme then it will change.
When something reaches fullness it must decline; this principle is immutable.
The beauty who thinks she is beautiful is quickly found fault with.
Wearing thick make-up in order to please, this is what a gentleman despises.
Breaking the bond of favour mainly comes about from this.


In stark contrast to the scene of family union and harmony in the previous scene, this scene shows the emperor turning away from his consort, his hand raised in a gesture of rejection and with a look of disdain on his face.

Scene 11: A lady reflects upon her conduct


故曰:翼翼矜矜,福所以興。
靖恭自思,榮顯所期。

Therefore I say: Be cautious and circumspect in all you do, and from this good fortune will arise.
Calmly and respectfully think about your actions, and honour and fame will await you.


The previous scene showed the final fate of a lady who did not follow the admonitions of the instructress, whereas this penultimate scene shows a palace lady sitting in quiet contemplation, presumably following the admonitions in the accompanying lines, awaiting the honour and fame that should be her reward.

Scene 12: The instructress


女史司箴,敢告庶姬。

The instructress in charge of admonitions boldly speaks to all the palace ladies.


The final scene shows the Court Instructress writing her admonitions on a scroll, her head bowed in concentration, whilst two court ladies walk towards her.

History


The early history of the painting is unknown, and it is not until the latter part of the Northern Song (960–1127) that there is any evidence for the existence of the painting. The painting and its end sections have numerous seal impressions purportedly indicating the past ownership of the painting, and these provide valuable evidence for the history of the scroll; however many of these are later fabrications of ancient seals intended to increase the appeal of the painting to collectors and connoisseurs. One particular seal that in the past has been used to link the painting to the Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 imperial collection is an impression reading "Seal of the Hongwen [Office]" , which has been interpreted as referring to the Office for the Dissemination of Culture (弘文館), part of the Hanlin Academy
Hanlin Academy
The Hanlin Academy was an academic and administrative institution founded in the eighth century Tang dynasty China by Emperor Xuanzong.Membership in the academy was confined to an elite group of scholars, who performed secretarial and literary tasks for the court. One of its main duties was to...

. However, there are indications that this seal may be a later forgery or else that it may be a genuine post-Tang seal added by a private collector with the name Hongwen, and so it is regarded with suspicion by many experts.

The earliest seal to be accepted as authentic is a large imperial seal inscribed "Sagacious Contemplation, East Wing" , which refers to the East Wing of the Palace of Sagacious Contemplation, which was an imperial palace built in 1075, during the reign of Emperor Shenzong of Song
Emperor Shenzong of Song
Emperor Shenzong of Song was the sixth emperor of the Chinese Song Dynasty. His personal name was Zhao Xu...

 (r. 1067–1085). The Palace of Sagacious Contemplation was built for use as a venue for state events and banquets, not for exhibiting works of art, but it is known that Emperor Huizong housed a Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 stone engraving of the calligraphic masterpiece, the Orchid Pavilion Preface by Wang Xizhi
Wang Xizhi
Wang Xizhi was a Chinese calligrapher, traditionally referred to as the Sage of Calligraphy , who lived during the Jin Dynasty...

 there, and it is possible that he also housed Gu Kaizhi's masterpiece of painting with it. At any rate, it is known for certain that the painting was in the imperial collection during the reign of Emperor Huizong as the Admonitions Scroll is included in the 1120 catalogue of Emperor Huizong's art collection. However, as Mi Fu records that a few years earlier the painting had been in the possession of Liu Youfang (劉有方, active 1074–1099), a palace eunuch, it seems probable that the painting was moved around the imperial court, temporarily looked after by palace staff as well as by emperors and their consorts.

In 1127 the capital of the Song empire, Kaifeng
Kaifeng
Kaifeng , known previously by several names , is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area...

, was sacked by the Jurchens, Emperor Huizong and his son Emperor Qinzong of Song
Emperor Qinzong of Song
Emperor Qinzong was the ninth emperor of the Song Dynasty of China, and the last emperor of the Northern Song. His personal name was Zhao Huan. He reigned from January 1126 to January 1127....

 (r. 1126–1127) were taken prisoner, and the north of China was subsumed within the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234). What happened to the Admonitions Scroll next is a matter of conjecture. There is no hard evidence as to whether the scroll ended up in the Jurchen north or was taken to safety to the south of China, which remained under the control of the Chinese as the Southern Song (1127–1279). One indirect indication that the scroll did not fall into Jurchen hands is that the Beijing copy of the scroll is believed to be an immediate copy of the scroll now in the British Museum, and it is believed to have been made during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong of Song
Emperor Xiaozong of Song
Emperor Xiaozong was the eleventh emperor of the Song Dynasty of China, and the second emperor of the Southern Song. His personal name was Zhao Shen. He reigned from 1162 to 1189. His temple name means "Filial Ancestor"....

 (r. 1162–1189). On the other hand, one of the end sections of the Admonitions Scroll incorporates seals of Emperor Zhangzong of Jin (r. 1189–1208), but as these are not on the painting itself, they may have been added at a later date from a different source. One of the end sections also incorporates two seals of the notorious Southern Song chancellor, Jia Sidao
Jia Sidao
Jia Sidao was a chancellor during the late Song Dynasty of China. He dominated the Song court from 1260 to 1273, after rising to the rank of chancellor due to his sister being a concubine of the Emperor Lizong...

 (1213–1275), who was instrumental in the Mongol
Mongol Empire
The Mongol Empire , initially named as Greater Mongol State was a great empire during the 13th and 14th centuries...

 overthrowal of the Southern Song, but if genuine it may only indicate that he was given the scroll by a Mongol prince after the Mongols defeated the Jin in 1234.

After the fall of the Southern Song to the Mongol Yuan Dynasty
Yuan Dynasty
The Yuan Dynasty , or Great Yuan Empire was a ruling dynasty founded by the Mongol leader Kublai Khan, who ruled most of present-day China, all of modern Mongolia and its surrounding areas, lasting officially from 1271 to 1368. It is considered both as a division of the Mongol Empire and as an...

 (1271–1368), an official called Wang Yun (王惲, 1227–1304) was commanded to make an inventory of the Southern Song imperial collection so that the best pieces could be sent to the Yuan capital at Beijing, but his inventory does not mention the Admonitions Scroll. The whereabouts of the painting during the Yuan dynasty are unknown, and it is not mentioned by any of the art connoisseurs of the period, such as Zhou Mi (周密, 1232–1298) or Zhao Mengfu
Zhao Mengfu
Zhao Mengfu courtesy name Ziang , pseudonyms Songxue , Oubo , and Shuijing-gong Dao-ren , was a prince and descendant of the Song Dynasty, and a Chinese scholar, painter and calligrapher during the Yuan Dynasty.He was recommended by the Censor-in-chief Cheng Jufu to pay an audience...

 (1254–1322). The only clue to its possible ownership at this time is a seal on the painting inscribed "Ali" in 'Phags-pa script, which may be the name of a Uyghur
Uyghur people
The Uyghur are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. Today, Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China...

 official who served in southern China in the late 13th century and who is known to have had a collection of Chinese calligraphy.

The exact ownership of the scroll remains uncertain until the middle of the Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

 (1368–1644), when it was probably in the ownership of the officials Wang Ao (王鏊, 1450–1524) and subsequently Yan Song (1481–1568). After the political downfall of Yan Song in 1562, his collection was confiscated, and the Admonitions Scroll came into the possession of the Ming court. However, the painting did not stay in government ownership for long, as it was noted by He Liangjun (何良俊, 1506–1573) as being in the possession of the official Gu Congyi (顧從義, 1523–1588) during the 1560s. It then entered the collection of wealthy art collector and pawnbroker, Xiang Yuanbian (項元汴, 1525–1590), who marked his ownership of the painting with about fifty seal stamps. Whilst the Admonitions Scroll was in the possession of Xiang, it was seen by the famous painter, Dong Qichang (董其昌, 1555–1636), who copied out the inscriptions to the paintings, which he believed to be by Gu Kaizhi, and published them in 1603 as calligraphic models. Thereafter, the painting changed hands frequently, and during the late Ming and early Qing Dynasty
Qing Dynasty
The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China....

 it is known to have been in the possession of Zhang Chou (張丑, 1577–1643), Zhang Xiaosi (張孝思), Da Zhongguang (笪重光, 1623–1692), and Liang Qingbiao (梁清標, 1620–1691), before finally being acquired by a wealthy salt merchant, An Qi (安岐, 1683–c. 1746).
After the death of An Qi, the Admonitions Scroll passed into the hands of the Qianlong Emperor
Qianlong Emperor
The Qianlong Emperor was the sixth emperor of the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper. The fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, he reigned officially from 11 October 1735 to 8 February 1796...

 (r. 1735–1796), who treasured the painting as the pinnacle of Chinese art. Qianlong had the painting remounted in 1746, and a number of extra elements were added to the scroll, including a title inscription, a painting of an orchid by Qianlong, a long colophon by Qianlong, and at the very end of the scroll a painting by Zou Yigui
Zou Yigui
Zou Yigui , style name as Yuanbao , sobriquet as Xiaoshan and Erzhi , is a famed Chinese painter in Qing Dynasty. He was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province....

 (鄒一桂, 1686–1772). He housed the scroll, together with three other masterpieces attributed to the Northern Song painter Li Gonglin
Li Gonglin
Li Gonglin , style name Boshi , pseudonym Longmian Jushi , was a Chinese painter, civil officer and archaeologist in the Northern Song Dynasty....

 (1049–1106), which he collectively named the "Four Beauties" , in his private residence, the Pavilion of Tranquil Ease . Qianlong also commissioned two paintings each from eight painters to be affixed to the outer boxes containing the "Four Beauties", but none of the boxes survive. Like Xiang Yuanbian before him, Qianlong marked his ownership of the painting with numerous seal impressions (37 in total), which he apparently added at different times and on different occasions throughout his sixty-year reign.

After the death of Qianlong the Admonitions Scroll remained in the imperial palace at Beijing, but when the building the "Four Beauties" were housed in was in need of repairs the Empress Dowager Cixi
Empress Dowager Cixi
Empress Dowager Cixi1 , of the Manchu Yehenara clan, was a powerful and charismatic figure who became the de facto ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China for 47 years from 1861 to her death in 1908....

 (de facto ruler of China from 1861 to 1908) ordered the four paintings to be transferred to the Summer Palace
Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is a palace in Beijing, China. The Summer Palace is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water....

 to the west of the city. In 1899 the Boxer Rebellion
Boxer Rebellion
The Boxer Rebellion, also called the Boxer Uprising by some historians or the Righteous Harmony Society Movement in northern China, was a proto-nationalist movement by the "Righteous Harmony Society" , or "Righteous Fists of Harmony" or "Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists" , in China between...

 broke out, and the following summer an international force
Eight-Nation Alliance
The Eight-Nation Alliance was an alliance of Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States whose military forces intervened in China to suppress the anti-foreign Boxers and relieve the siege of the diplomatic legations in Beijing .- Events :The...

 was sent to quell the rebellion and relieve the siege of Western legations in Beijing. After the suppression of the Boxers, there was a considerable amount of looting throughout the capital, and during this time of chaos Captain Clarence A. K. Johnson (1870–1937) of the 1st Bengal Lancers, who was stationed at the Summer Palace, somehow managed to acquire the Admonitions Scroll. His family later claimed that he was given the scroll as a reward for escorting a "lady of high birth" and her family to safety, but this story has never been corroborated. Johnson did not realise the value of the scroll, but when he returned to London in 1902 he took it to the British Museum to have the jade toggle on it valued. The keeper of the department of Prints and Drawings, Sidney Colvin
Sidney Colvin
Sidney Colvin was an English curator and literary and art critic, part of the illustrious Anglo-Indian Colvin family. He is primarily remembered for his friendship with Robert Louis Stevenson.-Biography:...

 (1845–1927), and his assistant, Laurence Binyon
Laurence Binyon
Robert Laurence Binyon was an English poet, dramatist and art scholar. His most famous work, For the Fallen, is well known for being used in Remembrance Sunday services....

 (1869–1943), recognised the significance of the painting, and in 1903 the British Museum purchased it from Johnson for the sum of £
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

25. By 1910 the scroll had been examined by a number of experts in Oriental art, and it had been recognised as an ancient masterpiece of Chinese art, and in 1912 the British Museum commissioned the printing of one hundred woodblock colour print facsimiles of the painting by Sugizaki Hideaki (杉崎秀明) and Urushibara Mokuchu (漆原木虫). In 1914–1915 the scroll was dismantled, and remounted on two long stretchers, one containing the nine scenes of the original painting, and one containing all the other sections, except for the Zou Yigui painting, which was mounted separately as an album leaf. Since 1914 the painting has been housed in the North Wing of the British Museum, although it is only occasionally put on public display due to its sensitivity to light.

External links