Interesting findings & case studies on commonly misunderstood and mystery images
‘Imperial Consort Lady Yang Getting Drunk’ has been a popular Chinese story plot since the seventeenth century. However, many renowned museums are still not able to identify this story scene on the porcelains in their collection. Dr Yibin Ni will illustrate with a few examples here.
Dragon and phoenix are commonly seen motifs in Chinese visual culture. Tiger, qilin and tortoise, at the same time, are favoured creatures symbolic for auspice. But when the motifs of the above five beasts are combined together, they have more meanings than they do individually. Here is what Dr Yibin Ni has to say about this motif combination.
The story scene comes from a marvel play Legend of the Jade Hairpin, which is not to be confused with the scene in Romance of the Western Chamber. Read the following article to find out details of the story and how this figural scene is depicted.
More than a simple assemblage of individual symbols of longevity: Discussion on a Chinese pictorial narrative scene of ‘Hai Wu Tian Chou’
More often than not, traditional Chinese motifs or symbols are not receiving their deserved attention, being given simplistic or inadequate labels and inaccurate explanations in our museums, catalogues, or even scholarly writing. The treatment of many pictorial representations of the thousand-year-old literary anecdote ‘A bamboo counter is being added to the house in the sea (海屋添筹 hai wu tian chou)’ is a case in point.
A literati theme with the image of a scholar riding in a snowscape with branches of plum blossoms in the vicinity has been very popular in traditional Chinese visual culture and literature. But who is the scholar in the scene? Art historian Dr Yibin Ni hereby unveils the mystery for us.
Pictorial artworks with figural scenes in traditional China often have historical and cultural significance and are not to be mistaken for daily life genre painting. Here is an example and Dr Yibin Ni will explain to you the hidden meaning in the scene of Seasoning the Stew with Sour Prunes.
The Peony Pavilion is a famous play written by Tang Xianzu in Ming Dynasty. There are very few figural paintings depicting this play on Kangxi famille verte porcelain. Dr Yibin Ni first identified the figures and the scene on a porcelain dish in the V&A Museum at the turn of the millennium, and now is discussing a couple of incorrect details in the description of the scene in their online catalogue.
People who are not familiar with Chinese history and parables may have the impression that the above image is a genre painting of fisherman’s daily life. But in fact, there is more meaning to it. Dr Yibin Ni will explain the story in detail and how this story scene has been presented in various forms of artworks.
Many museums and auction houses are often unaware of the pun rebuses hidden in traditional Chinese pictures and have treated them as mere naturalistic ones. Thus, the cultural and social significance contained in the motifs are unfortunately overlooked. Here is an example of a pun rebus design with four different fishes. What do they actually mean? Please read on…
A bear or a monkey? Understanding the meaning of pictorial art in the light of Chinese pun rebus culture
When you mistake a motif in a traditional Chinese picture, you could have misinterpreted the meaning of the whole image intended by the ancient craftsman. Dr Yibin Ni has used the following example to illustrate the hidden meaning of a series of images in the context of Chinese pun rebus culture.