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Interesting findings & case studies on commonly misunderstood and mystery images

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.

‘True love conquers all’ is the theme of the Peony Pavilion (牡丹亭 Mudan Ting), a musical play of fifty-five scenes written by Tang Xianzu (汤显祖, 1550-1616) in Ming dynasty. Also known as The Romance of Return of Soul (还魂记 Huanhun Ji), the play contains a supernatural love story between Du Liniang (杜丽娘), the only daughter of the Nan’an prefect (南安太守) Mr. Du, and Liu Mengmei (柳梦梅), a civil-service examination candidate. At the beginning of the play, there was a passionate rendezvous of the two in the form of Liniang’s dream in the back garden with vigorously budding bushes during a warm spring afternoon. The encounter was so indelible to the adolescent girl that she eventually died of longing for her ‘dream’ lover. The play narrates how the couple overcome all the obstacles along the way to their union. Their experiences transcend not only time and space but also life and death.

The story scene depicted in the centre of the Shunzhi bowl in the Butler collection and the Kangxi dish in the collection of the V&A Museum was first unveiled by Dr Yibin Ni. His research article with pictorial and literary evidence is available for view here.

References:

  1. 倪亦斌:《明末时尚女子的情色告白》,《艺术世界》, 上海: 上海文艺出版社, 2004-03, pp.72-73.
  2. 倪亦斌:《明末时尚女子的情色告白》,《看图说瓷》, 北京: 中华书局, 2008, pp.1-10.

A scholar official in Song dynasty Sima You (司马槱) dreamed of a beautiful girl presenting him the first half of a song, which he later developed into a full version called Huangjinlv (黄金缕). The girl was none other than a famous courtesan Su Xiaoxiao (苏小小) who lived by the Qiantang River and was in the local high society centuries earlier, an embodiment of the Southern sophisticated culture that the Northern young man absolutely adored. Since he had chanced on her relics in his backyard and gave her a proper burial the previous afternoon, the girl appeared in his dream to show gratitude to him.

The story scene on the Butler dish and the Cizhou pillow was first deciphered by Dr Yibin Ni.

References:

  1. Yibin Ni (2002) The Shunzhi Emperor and the Popularity of Scenes from the Romance of the Western Wing on Porcelain, Treasures from an Unknown Reign: Shunzhi Porcelain, Art Services Intl, p.78.
  2. 倪亦斌:《被遗忘的<钱塘梦>》,《艺术世界》, 上海: 上海文艺出版社, 2004-04, pp.74-75.
  3. 倪亦斌:《被遗忘的<钱塘梦>》,《看图说瓷》, 北京: 中华书局, 2008, pp.11-18.

Other dream scene on antique artworks:

A Startled Romantic Dream in the Back Garden 杜丽娘游园惊梦