THE LÜ 吕 FAMILY AND THEIR PRINTS

A large number of colour woodblock prints attributed to the Kangxi reign bear a signature by an artist or printer. The format of these signature varies greatly. Sometimes it is within a cartouche, other times without any borders or embellishments. Usually the signature is placed in the lower left or right part of the print, either on the image itself or outside in the margin. Occasionally it is within the frame surrounding the image, and, in one instance, in the middle of the print (Fig. 13). A standard signature would read, in seven characters: Place (usually Gusu 姑蘇), Name of printer/artist, Production term. This latter production term varies from artist to artist and from studio to studio, but the most common expression is faxing 發行, issued. Rarely is included the location of a studio (Fig. 1) or family relationships (Figs. 15 & 21). The majority of these Kangxi prints have a title in the upper part or upper margin.

It is to be noted that none of these signed prints carry a date. Very few prints from the Kangxi Emperor’s 60-year reign are dated. To our knowledge there are only two. One is a map by Wang Junfu 王君甫 dated 1663 and the second a print, Nanhai Putuo Mingshan Shengjing 南海普陀名山勝境, Scenic Spots of Putuoshan, dated 1710. We know of only two prints dated from the Yongzheng reign (1732 and 1734), and then 15 prints with Qianlong dates, the majority (11 prints) with dates in the 1740s.

The main tool for dating prints to the Kangxi reign is to compare with other prints in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, which were inventoried in 1738 (Figs. 1 & 3 & 4 & 23 & 24). A second source for dating are the prints in the Hans Sloane Collection which entered the British Museum in 1753, ie. 30 years after the Kangxi reign ended.

Among known Gusu 姑蘇 (old name for Suzhou 蘇州) prints that bear a signature, the ones signed by a member of the Lü 吕 family appear to be the most numerous; no less than 27 such prints are recorded. All are printed in colour, many with very subtle tones and an inclination towards blue, yellow and red/pink. The prints all belong to the Kangxi reign to judge from colour, style and dress. A few prints could be attributed to the Yongzheng reign based on colours and style, but this dating is unproven and tentative.

LÜ YUNTAI 吕雲臺

Six of these 27 prints are signed by the father of the Lü family, Lü Yuntai 吕雲臺. In all but two he signs himself as Gusu Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺發行, Issued by Lü Yuntai in Suzhou. The first exception reads Gusu Bei Si Qian Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇北寺前吕雲臺發行 (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Jin Gu Qi Guan Tu 今古奇觀圖 Pictures of Strange Things Past and Present. Signed Gusu Bei Si Qian Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇北寺前吕雲臺發行. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 147 01.
Fig. 1. Jin Gu Qi Guan Tu 今古奇觀圖 Pictures of Strange Things Past and Present. Signed Gusu Bei Si Qian Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇北寺前吕雲臺發行. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 147 01.

This signature informs us that Lü’s studio was in front of the Bei Temple, Beisi 北寺. Bei Temple was also known as Baoen Si 報恩寺, Baoen Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Suzhou, built in 577 and rebuilt in the Southern Song Dynasty. Baoen Temple was located at the end of Taohuawu 桃花塢 Avenue, which was the well-known street and district of Suzhou where most of the print shops were located during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Fig. 2. Mu Yuying Dapo Tianmen Zhen 穆御英大破天門陣 Mu Yuying Breaks Heavenly Formation. Signed Lü Yuntai Faxing 呂雲台發行. Author's collection.
Fig. 2. Mu Yuying Dapo Tianmen Zhen 穆御英大破天門陣 Mu Yuying Breaks Heavenly Formation. Signed Lü Yuntai Faxing 呂雲台發行. Author’s collection.

The second exception is where Yuntai simply signs as Lü Yuntai Faxing 呂雲台發行, Issued by Lü Yuntai (Fig. 2).

Two more of Yuntai’s signed prints are in the collection of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and were inventoried in 1738 (Figs. 3 & 4). We therefore have firm evidence that at least Yuntai was active in the Kangxi reign or before.

Fig. 3. Si Lei Tai 四擂臺 Four Stations. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺發行. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 147 03.
Fig. 3. Si Lei Tai 四擂臺 Four Stations. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺發行. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 147 03.
Fig. 4. Queqiao Xi Xiangfeng 鵲橋喜相逢 Happy Reunion on Maggpie Bridge. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺發行. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 147 02.
Fig. 4. Queqiao Xi Xiangfeng 鵲橋喜相逢 Happy Reunion on Magpie Bridge. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺發行. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 147 02.

The six prints by Yuntai are all in landscape format, and more or less uniform in size, c. 38×60 cm. All are known by just one example except for the print Zhuguo Jin Gong 諸國進貢, All Nations Bring Tribute, of which 3 examples exist (Fig. 5) (one print is in the Umi-Mori Art Museum and the other was sold at a Tokyo auction in 2010).

Fig. 5. Zhuguo Jin Gong Tu 諸國進貢圖 All Nations Bring Tribute. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇呂雲台發行. Author's collection.
Fig. 5. Zhuguo Jin Gong Tu 諸國進貢圖 All Nations Bring Tribute. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇呂雲台發行. Author’s collection.

Three of the prints consist of multiple scenes in narrative-square style, divided respectively into 4 (Fig. 3), 10 (Fig. 6) and 24 squares (Fig. 1). The other three also contain various scenes from either a tale or a historical event but here the images are freely composed into a seemingly uniform ensemble.

Fig 6. Erba Jie Zuo Qin 二八姐做親 Twenty Eight Sisters by Marriage. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇呂雲台發行. Collection unknown.
Fig 6. Erba Jie Zuo Qin 二八姐做親 Twenty Eight Sisters-in-Law. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Faxing 姑蘇呂雲台發行. Whereabouts unknown.

Within the six prints two signatures are placed in the lower left margin (Figs. 1 & 6), one signature within the image to the lower right (Fig. 4) and the remaining three are within a frame inside the lower left side of the image.

LÜ JUNHAN 吕君翰

From his signatures we know that Junhan was Yuntai’s oldest son. No less than 13 prints are known as being signed by Junhan, five as Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行 Issued by Lü Yuntai’s Son Junhan in Suzhou.

To emphasise that Junhan is the oldest son, he signs four other prints as Gusu Lü Yuntai Zhang Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇呂雲臺長子君翰發行 Issued by Lü Yuntai’s Eldest Son Junhan in Suzhou. Possibly his brother (see below) started work in the studio and Junhan felt he had to state his superiority in rank and age.

Two prints are signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Dafang Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子大房君翰發行 Issued by Lü Yuntai’s Son Eldest Son Junhan in Suzhou (Figs. 7 & 8). The term Dafang Large Hall or Large Room, implies that Junhan now occupies the main quarters of the family house means First Wife, Wife No. One, so Junhan is the son of Yuntai’s first wife.

Fig. 7. Tian Ci Jin Qian 天賜金錢. The Gods Send Money. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Dafang Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子大房君翰發行. Tenri Library.
Fig. 7. Tian Ci Jin Qian 天賜金錢. The Gods Send Money. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Dafang Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子大房君翰發行. Tenri Library.

Actually, the signature on the second print (see 8a and 8b below) is by conjecture since the area of the signature is damaged in the print but one can clearly read 姑蘇吕雲臺子大….

Fig. 8a. Xing Long - Jiang Zhong Jiu Jia 興隆-蒋忠救駕. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Da …[Fang Junhan Faxing] 姑蘇吕雲臺子大...[房君翰發行]. Umi-Mori Art Museum, 2000-014-050.
Fig. 8a. Xing Long – Jiang Zhong Jiu Jia 興隆-蒋忠救駕. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Da …[Fang Junhan Faxing] 姑蘇吕雲臺子大…[房君翰發行]. Umi-Mori Art Museum, 2000-014-050.
Fig. 8b. Signature on print Fig. 8a.
Fig. 8b. Signature on print Fig. 8a.

Finally, two prints are signed with just Junhan’s name, papa Yuntai doesn’t figure any longer, Junhan now worked on his own. In both cases the signature reads Gusu Lü Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕君翰發行 Issued by Lü Junhan in Suzhou (Figs. 9 & 10).

Fig. 9. Daji Yao Kun Huang Feihu 妲姬妖困黃飛虎. Fairy Daji fighting against Huang Feihu. Signed Gusu Lü Junhan Faxing 姑蘇呂君翰發行. Author's collection.
Fig. 9. Daji Yao Kun Huang Feihu 妲姬妖困黃飛虎. Fairy Daji Fights Huang the Flying Tiger. Signed Gusu Lü Junhan Faxing 姑蘇呂君翰發行. Author’s collection.
Fig. 10. Zhaojun Hefan 昭君和番. Signed Gusu Lü Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕君翰發行. Collection unknown.
Fig. 10. Zhaojun he Fan 昭君和番, Zhaojun and Fan. Signed Gusu Lü Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕君翰發行. Whereabouts unknown.

Junhan follows his father’s landscape format and motifs in his prints, but he also introduces prints in portrait format, in that he rotates the image 90º but keeps the old dimensions, c. 60×38 cm. This was possibly, at the time, the standard size for the woodblock or the paper. Just over half (7) of the 13 prints signed by Junhan are in portrait format. This image orientation was to become the preferred format in prints of the later Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns, although the dimensions increased.

The motifs in Junhan prints are fetched from mythology and from historical events mainly during the Han period. Two prints in the Tenri Library, Tian Ci Jin Qian 天賜金錢, The Gods Send Money (Fig. 7), and Hui Ming Da Zhan Sun Feihu 惠明大戰孫飛虎, Hui Ming Battles with Sun the Flying Tiger (Fig. 11), are two battle scenes forming part of a series judging by the colours and composition of the prints.

Fig. 11. Hui Ming Da Zhan Sun Feihu 惠明大戰孫飛虎 Hui Ming Battles with Sun the Flying Tiger. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zhang Zi Junhan Faxing  姑蘇吕雲臺長子君翰發行. Tenri Library.
Fig. 11. Hui Ming Da Zhan Sun Feihu 惠明大戰孫飛虎 Hui Ming Battles with Sun the Flying Tiger. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zhang Zi Junhan Faxing  姑蘇吕雲臺長子君翰發行. Tenri Library.

A print in Boston Museum of Fine Arts shows the Eighteen Lohans arriving on clouds and waves (Fig. 12).

Fig. 12. Nanhai Tu 南海圖, Picture of the Southern Sea. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 11.27103.
Fig. 12. Nanhai Tu 南海圖, Picture of the Southern Sea. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 11.27103.

Two other prints are in the narrative-squares style, one is in 4 squares (Fig. 13), the other in 24 (the 24 Paragons of Confucian Filial Piety) (Fig. 14).

Fig. 13. Qing Ming Jia Jie Tu 清明佳節圖 Qing Ming Festival. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Umi-Mori Art Museum, 1985-058-064-1. 
Fig. 13. Qingming Jia Jie Tu 清明佳節圖 Qingming Festival. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Umi-Mori Art Museum, 1985-058-064-1. 
Fig. 14. Ershisi Xiao Tu 二十四孝圖 The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Umi-Mori Art Museum,  1985-058-064-2.
Fig. 14. Ershisi Xiao Tu 二十四孝圖 The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Umi-Mori Art Museum, 1985-058-064-2.

Four of Junhan’s 7 prints in portrait orientation introduce us to an innovative and artistic presentation of the motif, where he divides the images in different compartments. The simplest of these is in our collection, Zhaojun Chusai 昭君出塞, Zhaojun Leaves for the North (Fig. 15), where the top image is within a circle, the middle held within a fan shape, and the bottom contained in a rectangle with inverted corners.

Fig. 15. Zhaojun Chusai 昭君出塞 Zhaojun Leaves for the North. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing  姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Author's collection.
Fig. 15. Zhaojun Chusai 昭君出塞 Zhaojun Leaves for the North. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Author’s collection.

Another print, formerly in the late Nakayama Zenji 中山善次 collection (present whereabouts unknown), entitled San Meiren 三美人 Three Beauties (Fig. 16), has a similar arrangement of three images of high-class beauties in their luxurious domestic settings.

Fig. 16. San Meiren 三美人 Three Beauties. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Ex Nakayama Zenji collection.
Fig. 16. San Meiren 三美人 Three Beauties. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Ex Nakayama Zenji collection.

The images are surrounded by fancy borders in fancy shapes, the bottom one in a rectangle with inverted corners just like the Zhaojun Chusai print (Fig.15).

Two prints, both in Tenri Library, show Confucian ethics in complicated arrangements of the scenes. The first print, You Di Zhong Tian Lun 友弟重天倫, Brotherly Affection (Fig. 17), introduces four scenes on porcelain items: the first an oblong plaque, the second a three-legged vessel, the third a rectangular tray and the fourth a plate shaped as an artemisia leaf.

Fig. 17. You Di Zhong Tian Lun 友弟重天倫 Brotherly Affection. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zhang Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺長子君翰發行. Tenri Library.
Fig. 17. You Di Zhong Tian Lun 友弟重天倫 Brotherly Affection. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zhang Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺長子君翰發行. Tenri Library.

These four objects in their turn are placed on a textile or ceramic object which forms the background. Flowers and leaves can be seen under the top plaque and a vase and a small box are placed next to the tripod.

The second print, Xiao Ti Jie Tianxing 孝悌皆天性, The Nature of Filial Piety (Fig. 18), shows six out of the twenty-four scenes of Confucian Filial Piety.

Fig. 18. Xiao Ti  Jie Tianxing 孝悌皆天性 The Nature of Filial Piety. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Tenri Library.
Fig. 18. Xiao Ti Jie Tianxing 孝悌皆天性 The Nature of Filial Piety. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺子君翰發行. Tenri Library.

Here the images are presented within a handscroll, a musical stone, a vase with lid, a square dish, a hanging scroll, and a leaf. The captions to these six scenes are also imaginatively depicted upon various objects: a fancy cup, a lotus petal, an artemisia leaf, a crab, a ruyi sceptre, and a gourd.

Fig. 19. Xiaoyi Yi Men Jing 孝義一門旌, Reward Filial Piety With Reputation. Tenri Library.
Fig. 19. Xiaoyi Yi Men Jing 孝義一門旌, Reward Filial Piety With Reputation. Tenri Library.

An unsigned print, Xiaoyi Yi Men Jing 孝義一門旌, Reward Filial Piety With Reputation (Fig. 19), might be a companion print (part of a possible set of four?) showing further six scenes from the Confucian Filial Piety pantheon, all reproduced on familiar objects (open book, fan, artemisia leaf, etc) and with the captions to the scenes on fruits, leaves and musical instruments. The similarity in style, colours and calligraphy between these two Tenri Library prints points to Junhan as the artist of both.

Fig. 20. De Dao Tuanyuan 得道團圓, A Reunion of Daoists. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zhang Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺長子君翰發行. Umi-Mori Art Museum.
Fig. 20. De Dao Tuanyuan 得道團圓, A Reunion of Daoists. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zhang Zi Junhan Faxing 姑蘇吕雲臺長子君翰發行. Umi-Mori Art Museum.

One print in the Umi-Mori Art Museum entitled De Dao Tuanyuan 得道團圓, A Reunion of Daoists, (Fig. 20), is exceptional in its small size, c. 10×10 cm. It is probable, though, that this is a cut-out from the lower left corner of a larger unknown narrative-squares print.

LÜ TIANZHI 呂天植

Lü Tianzhi 呂天植 was an unknown name among the Gusu artists until 2019, when six prints with his signature were discovered in an old, hitherto unknown German collection.

From his signatures on these six prints we know that he was a son of Yuntai and Junhan’s younger brother. Tianzhi signs himself in four different ways:

  1. Lü Tianzhi Faxing 呂天植發行 Issued by Lü Tianzhi
  2. Gusu Lü Tianzhi Faxing 姑蘇呂天植發行 Issued by Lü Tianzhi in Suzhou
  3. Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Tianzhi Faxing 姑蘇呂雲臺子天植發行 Issued by Lü Yuntai’s Son Tianzhi in Suzhou (2 prints)
  4. Gusu Lü Yuntai Zhi Zi Tianzhi Faxing 姑蘇呂雲臺之子天植發行 Issued by Lü Yuntai’s Son Tianzhi in Suzhou (2 prints)

The difference between signatures 3. and 4. is the insertion of the possessive zhi 之, which we believe only serves to emphasize that Tianzhi is Yuntai’s son.

Also, like his father and brother, Tianzhi prints in the traditional landscape format, c. 38×60 cm. Four such examples are described below.

Fig. 21. Jun Zi Xiaoren Tu 君子小人圖, Pictures of Nobles and Scoundrels. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Tianzhi Faxing. 姑蘇呂雲臺子天植發行. Author's Collection.
Fig. 21. Jun Zi Xiaoren Tu 君子小人圖, Pictures of Nobles and Scoundrels. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Tianzhi Faxing. 姑蘇呂雲臺子天植發行. Author’s Collection.

The print Jun Zi Xiaoren Tu 君子小人圖, Pictures of Nobles and Scoundrels (Fig. 21), has the same Confucian message and division into 20 narrative squares similar to those printed by Tianzhi’s father and older brother.

Fig. 22. Yu Jia Huan Le 漁家歡樂, Happy Fisherfolk. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Tianzhi Faxing. 姑蘇呂雲臺子天植發行. Author's Collection.
Fig. 22. Yu Jia Huan Le 漁家歡樂, Happy Fisherfolk. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Tianzhi Faxing. 姑蘇呂雲臺子天植發行. Author’s Collection.

A second landscape format print illustrates a popular subject, that of Yu Jia Huan Le 漁家歡樂 Happy Fisherfolk (Fig. 22). The entire image is taken up by waves among which no less than 61 men, women and children are portrayed, most of them actively fishing in one manner or another. Two prints in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, documented in 1738, illustrate the same subject (Figs. 23 & 24).

Fig. 23. Yu Jia Huan Le 漁家歡樂 Happy Fisherfolk. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 135 11.
Fig. 23. Yu Jia Huan Le 漁家歡樂 Happy Fisherfolk. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 135 11.
Fig. 24. Yu Jia Huan Le 漁家歡樂 Happy Fisherfolk. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 135 12.
Fig. 24. Yu Jia Huan Le 漁家歡樂 Happy Fisherfolk. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Ca 135 12.
Fig. 25. Xue Rengui Shen Jian She Fei Dao 薛仁貴神箭射飛刀 Xue Rengui Shoots Down the Flying Swords. Signed Gusu Lü Tianzhi Faxing 姑蘇呂天植發行. Author's Collection.
Fig. 25. Xue Rengui Shen Jian She Fei Dao 薛仁貴神箭射飛刀 Xue Rengui Shoots Down the Flying Swords. Signed Gusu Lü Tianzhi Faxing 姑蘇呂天植發行. Author’s Collection.

The third landscape print, Xue Rengui Shen Jian She Fei Dao 薛仁貴神箭射飛刀 (Fig. 25), represents the genre of historical print and here shows Xue Rengui, (614-683) a great Tang dynasty General, shooting down flying swords.

Fig. 26. Yingjie Cai Shen 迎接財神, Welcome the God of Wealth. Signed Gusu Lü Tianzhi Faxing 姑蘇呂天植發行. Author's Collection.
Fig. 26. Yingjie Cai Shen 迎接財神, Welcome the God of Wealth. Signed Gusu Lü Tianzhi Faxing 姑蘇呂天植發行. Author’s Collection.

The fourth and final print in the landscape format is Yingjie Cai Shen 迎接財神, Welcome the God of Wealth (Fig. 26). We see Cai Shen seated on the top of a boat arriving at a jetty where a group waits to welcome him.

This last print, in composition, colour and subject, reminds one of Zhuguo Jin Gong 諸國進貢, All Nations Bring Tribute (Fig. 5), the print by his father Yuntai mentioned above, and of the print in Boston Museum of Fine Arts by his brother Junhan called Nanhai Tu 南海圖 Picture of the Southern Sea (Fig. 12). The Boston print shows the Eighteen Lohans arriving by boat or on waves at a landing where a dignitary presides. The Tribute print shows a land procession of ambassadors from various nations bringing precious tribute. These three prints (Figs. 26, 5 & 12) have in their composition a distinct axis from upper left to lower right, and with a multitude of figures and actions that fill the whole image. One can recognise the prints as emanating from the same studio.

Like his father and brother Tianzhi also made a print showing six scenes from the Paragons of Confucian Filial Piety (Fig. 27). The print is presented in a vertical composition with intermingled decorative patterns, including lotus petals and stems, framing the stories in six circles. A large character at the top reads Xiao 孝, Filial.

Fig. 27. Xiao 孝, Filial. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Tianzhi Faxing 姑蘇呂雲臺子天植發行. Author's Collection.
Fig. 27. Xiao 孝, Filial. Signed Gusu Lü Yuntai Zi Tianzhi Faxing 姑蘇呂雲臺子天植發行. Author’s Collection.

Above each scene is its title contained within various shapes of auspicious objects, including (from top right to bottom left) lian’ou 蓮藕, lotus root (the symbol of a harmonious and happy marriage); dou 斗, ingots in a measuring container (which denotes the phrase Ri Jin Dou Jin 日進斗金, Daily Earning Much Gold); qing 罄, a musical instrument (a homonym for qing 慶, celebration); a seal with a rabbit (a symbol of a prosperous career); a sharp-pointed, lotus petal-shaped shoe, worn by women with bound feet, known as San Cun Jin Lian 三寸金蓮, Three-Inch Golden Lotus, and signifying high social status; xiao 蕭 the ancient flute, and bianzhong 編鐘, bronze bells symbolizing privilege. This print echoes elder brother Junhan’s Xiao Ti Jie Tianxing print (Fig. 18) in that two of the piety scenes are the same and the captions are contained within fancy objects. However, Tianzhi fills the entire background with floral patterns creating a colourful composition.

The last print signed by Tianzhi breaks the mould. Presented within the outline of a tree leaf, with the character jin 金, Gold, at the top, this is a most elegant print (Fig. 28).

Fig. 28. Jin 金, Gold. Signed Lü Tianzhi Faxing 呂天植發行. Author's Collection.
Fig. 28. Jin 金, Gold. Signed Lü Tianzhi Faxing 呂天植發行. Author’s Collection.

The character ‘Gold’ indicates that this print is one in a series of four where the other three prints would also contain a single character at the top. Taken together the characters would form an auspicious phrase. Here it could be Jin Zhi Yü Ye 金枝玉葉, meaning Gold Branches and Jade Leaves, symbolising a person of noble birth, or Jin Yü Man Tang 金玉滿堂, Halls Full of Jade and Gold, ie. wealth and prosperity.

The print shows two beautiful ladies seated in a garden facing each other and playing traditional instruments: a small gong, xiaoluo 小鑼, and a pair of clashing bells, pengling 碰鈴 or boling 鈸鈴. Both women have gaoji 高髻, high tied-up hairdos (also known as boyu tou 缽盂頭) in the fashion of the Kangxi reign, and long coats over long skirts.

LÜ ZIFAN 呂子帆

Umi-Mori Art Museum possesses a print, Zhang Zi Cheng 張子成, The Tale of Zhang Zicheng, signed Gusu Changmen Nei Lü Zifan Fa 姑蘇閶門内呂子帆發 Issued by Lü Zifan Inside Changmen Gate in Suzhou (Fig. 29).

Fig. 29. Chang Zi Cheng 張子成, Tale of Zhang Zicheng. Signed Gusu Changmen Nei Lü Zifan Fa 姑蘇閶門内呂子帆發. Umi-Mori Art Museum, 2000-014-069-03.
Fig. 29. Chang Zi Cheng 張子成, Tale of Zhang Zicheng. Signed Gusu Changmen Nei Lü Zifan Fa 姑蘇閶門内呂子帆發. Umi-Mori Art Museum, 2000-014-069-03.

Changmen was the busiest water gate and commercial area in north-west Suzhou. This is the area where the district of Taohuawu 桃花塢 was located, where many hundreds of print workshops were active in the early Qing dynasty. There are no other prints or records of this Lü and we do not know if he was a close relative of Yuntai or even a relative.

LÜ ?? 呂??

Another print in Umi-Mori Art Museum, Tiantai Shengjing 天台勝景, Scenic Spots on the Heavenly Terrace (Fig. 30), has been badly damaged and the signature is only readable as Gusu Lü. . . 姑蘇呂 . . .

Fig. 30. Tiantai Shengjing 天台勝景, Scenic Spots on the Heavenly Terrace. Signed Gusu Lü. . . 姑蘇呂... Umi-Mori Art Museum, 1994-047-041.
Fig. 30. Tiantai Shengjing 天台勝景, Scenic Spots on the Heavenly Terrace. Signed Gusu Lü. . . 姑蘇呂… Umi-Mori Art Museum, 1994-047-041.
Fig. 31. Possible signature on previous print.
Fig. 31. Possible signature on previous print.

There is theoretically space for four more characters in the signature box, so Yuntai Faxing or Junhan Faxing could have been possible since the print is in their style (Fig. 31).

There is a further text box below the signature box, but all text in this has also been damaged. Again theoretically, the four characters of Fan Ke Ji Sun 翻刻即孫 could have fitted here.

Fan Ke Ji Sun 翻刻即孫

An interesting feature of Lü family prints is the occasional inclusion, after the signature, of the term Fan Ke Ji Sun 翻刻即孫, an uncommon expression.

Fig. 32. Fan Ke Ji Sun 翻刻即孫
Fig. 32. Fan Ke Ji Sun 翻刻即孫

It may mean: ‘Fakers will be Pursued down the Generations’. A copyright warning to be sure and tells us that copying and pirating was abundant at the time and that the brothers in particular felt they had to issue this deterrent. Fan Ke Ji Sun 翻刻即孫 occurs on four prints, two by Junhan and two by Tianzhi as follows:

Nan Hai Tu 南海圖 (Fig. 12)

Xiao Ti Jie Tianxing 孝悌皆天性 (Fig. 18)

Jun Zi Xiaoren Tu 君子小人圖 (Fig. 21)

Yingjie Cai Shen 迎接財神 (Fig. 26)

 

The Lü family prints give us an insight into the workings of a print studio at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries. We realise that generations of artists succeeded each other in the studio, sometimes moving premises. The subject matter of the prints continued from one generation to the other, as did physical format and size. The younger generations unsurprisingly introduced new formats and subjects. The Lü prints were popular to such an extent that the brothers had to issue a warning that fakers and copiers would burn in hell for generations to come.

Burn in Hell. Detail from a print in author's collection.
Burn in Hell. Detail from a print in author’s collection.

Perhaps a more efficient deterrent than today’s threat of litigation for copyright infringement!

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Prints in Schloss Wörlitz 4 – Er Sun Fu Lu, Ba Man Jin Bao

Set in a wall panel between two windows are two more Gusu prints. Here we discuss the lefthand print which has a title reading Er Sun Fu Lu 兒孫福祿, which can be translated as May Your Children and Grandchildren Enjoy Fortune and Prosperity. An example of this print is also in my collection, bought 20 years ago in Paris.

Gusu prints at Wörlitz Palace. Er Sun Fu Lu to the left.
Gusu prints at Wörlitz Palace. Er Sun Fu Lu to the left.
Er Sun Fu Lu. Wörlitz Palace.
Er Sun Fu Lu. Wörlitz Palace.
Er Sun Fu Lu. Author's Collection. 99x55,5 cm.
Er Sun Fu Lu. Author’s Collection. 99×55,5 cm.

The Wörlitz example is printed in black with hand-colouring, as is my example: in brown, red, ochre, yellow, grey-blue and green. The Wörlitz print has been torn and rubbed, is flaking and shows some later European overpainting.

Next to the title is the text Ba Man Jin Bao 八蛮進寶, the Eight Emissaries Bring Tribute. The tribute system in China can be traced back to the Han dynasty (202BC-220AD). The Eight Emissaries here indicate the tribute countries of the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the lower section of the print, in the lower foreground, in a courtyard of the Imperial palace, are seen ambassadors from foreign countries in exotic clothes, carrying swords at their waists and bringing rare and precious treasures as tribute: a lion; a large vase with a coral branch carried by a man with an elephant helmet (far left); flaming pearls in a large plate held high by the second foreigner; and a magic mushroom, which assures longevity, in the hands of a female who wears exotic garment and dress. To the far right, a man, looking like an ambassador or envoy, wearing a long cloak and turban, holds a sword in his hand. Behind him are two attendants wearing turbans, one holds a pennant symbolising noble status. On it is written two characters for his country, Gaoli 高麗, present-day Korea. The other attendant holds the tribute gift – an ivory. Two other foreigners stand in the centre; one holds an ingot, the other carries a large jar with exotic flowers. The emissary who drags the mythical-looking lion onto the terrace stairs has curly hair and wears an earring. In his left hand he holds a ball covered with gauze and decorative fur, known as xiuqiu 繡球, which is used in lion-dancing performances. All this reminds us of the foreigners also bringing tributes in the print Jubaopen.

On the upper level, seated on a tiger-skin covered chair, a young mandarin, dressed as a General, receives these foreign emissaries. On a banner fluttering above him is inscribed Wu Zhuangyuan 武状元 and the large character Xu 徐, his family name, the whole meaning First in the Imperial Examinations. He wears a military helmet and a mangpao 蟒袍, a robe with four-clawed dragon pattern, worn by high-ranking military officials. He is surrounded by other officials and attendants. The attendant to the right holds a string of coins while the one to the left carries a number of ingots on a special wooden stand. They all wear military uniforms in the Ming style and turn to their left to look at a tall scholarly-looking young man who wears a robe and a guan 冠, an official’s hat. His appearance indicates that he could be a prince or a famous scholar. A foreigner in the middle of the courtyard carries his tribute on his head – a big plate of flaming pearls. Further to the left a eunuch, wearing the Ming official hat and uniform, carries a dust whisk and stands next to the entrance of the terrace, supervising the ceremony (assessing the loot!). Four other clerks in the courtyard are dressed in official uniforms and each holds a huban 笏板, ceremonial tablet.

The large hall to the right has a plaque identifying it as Wuying Dian 武英殿, Hall of Martial Valor, (only the wu 武 character is visible in the Wörlitz exemplar). This was one of the most famous halls in the Forbidden City complex during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Numerous books and prints were edited, printed and published here by imperial command in the Kangxi and Qianlong reigns. It is curious and interesting that the name of the important imperial printing hall appears on this Gusu print, perhaps proving a close relationship between the Gusu artists and the imperial workshops. Meanwhile, the depictions of sophisticated palace buildings in the background and the tall wutong 梧桐 tree in the courtyard are similar in style to Shinü Tu 仕女圖, Painting of Beauties, by Jiao Bingzhen 焦秉貞, an imperial artist during the Kangxi reign. Reference is made to this image in: Palace Museum ed. 故宮博物院, Qingdai Gongting Huihua 清代宮廷繪畫, Court Painting of the Qing Dynasty. Beijing: Cultural Relics Publishing House, 1992, p. 31, fig. 8.

There are women on the second floor of the hall in the background and a few eunuch servants inside the buildings. The palace courtyard is decorated with taihu 太湖 stones and bajiao 芭蕉 trees. Through the window of the main hall can be seen more complex architecture. The artist has employed western art techniques, including linear perspective and hatching lines in the shaded areas of the buildings and the figures.

The last line of the inscription contains the signature Jinling Cao Sheng Xie 金陵曹陞寫, Painted by Cao Sheng from Jinling (today’s Nanjing). The same signature is found on the accompanying print pasted to the right of the print under discussion, on the wall panel between the windows. A third print Jinling Shengjing Tu 金陵勝景圖, Scenic Views of Jinling, also has the same signature. That print was formerly in the Imanaka Hirosi Collection, present whereabouts unknown. Again, the same signature is on a print in my collection, Ershiba Xiu Nao Kunyang 二十八宿鬧昆陽, Twenty-Eight Constellations Battle in Kunyang.

Ershiba Xiu Nao Kunyang  二十八宿鬧昆陽, Twenty-Eight Constellations Battle In Kunyang. Signed Jinling Cao Sheng Xie 金陵曹陞寫. Author's collection.
Ershiba Xiu Nao Kunyang 二十八宿鬧昆陽, Twenty-Eight Constellations Battle In Kunyang. Signed Jinling Cao Sheng Xie 金陵曹陞寫. Author’s collection.

Finally, a fifth print, entitled Lintong Dou Bao 臨潼斗宝, Competing for Wealth in Lintong, in a private collection, Japan, carries the same signature of Jinling Cao Sheng Xie 金陵曹陞寫.

Lintong Dou Bao 臨潼斗宝, Competing for Wealth in Lintong. Private collection.
Lintong Dou Bao 臨潼斗宝, Competing for Wealth in Lintong. Private collection.

However, on the bottom left, in the outer margin of that print, is also printed the signature Gusu Cao Huazhang Fa Ke 姑蘇曹華章發客, Issued by Cao Huazhang in Suzhou. We do not know if Huazhang is another name for Sheng or if this was a relative running a print studio in Suzhou. The print Competing for Wealth in Lintong has all its margins preserved whereas the other four prints have been trimmed to the image border. It is possible that printer’s signatures were present in those cut-away margins. Future findings will reveal if Cao Sheng and Huazhang are one and the same person who worked in Suzhou but who wanted to point out his Nanjing origin, or if Cao Sheng was a Nanjing artist who made drawings for prints produced by (his relative?) Cao Huazhang.

As mentioned in previous blog, the Wörlitz Palace was completed in 1753 and we can therefore date the prints to before this year.

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Prints in Schloss Wörlitz 3 – The Herdboy and the Weaving Maid – Niulang Zhinü

This third print in Wörlitz Palace, this time pasted high above a mirror between two windows, depicts the story of the Weaving Maid Zhinü 織⼥ and the Herdboy Niulang 牛郎. It is an old and famous love story which has made many appearances in Chinese art.

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Niulang and Shinü. Wörlitz Palace

The story is based on the stars Vega and Altair. Both are among the top 12 brightest stars in the night sky. On the 7th day of the 7th month in the Chinese lunar calendar, Vega and Altair reach their highest point in the sky, being directly overhead around midnight.

Initially, Niulang (represented by Altair) was of humble, earthly descent, an honest and kind-hearted herdboy. As a child, he was expelled from his home by his sister-in-law after his parents died, and he lived by himself, herding cattle and farming. In contrast, Zhinü (Vega) was a Heavenly Maiden. According to popular belief she was the grand-daughter of Yuhuang Dadi 玉皇大帝, the Jade Emperor, and Xi Wangmu ⻄王母, Queen Mother of the West, and accordingly Zhinü is a Xian 仙, a Daoist Immortal. Once upon a time Zhinü descended from the sky and fell in love with Niulang. They were married, very amorous and spent so much time together that they neglected their tasks.

Grandmother Xi Wangmu resented the fact that Zhinü had left Heaven and married a herdboy, and she punished and separated the two lovers by drawing her jade hairpin across the sky, forming the Milky Way. The punishment also stipulated that they could only meet once a year. It was originally to be once a month but the forgetful magpie relaying the message got confused. Their meeting was to be on the seventh day of the seventh month, qixi 七夕. Zhinü’s and Niulang’s loyal love had touched every magpie (the bird of joy and happiness) and each year thousands of them come together on this day to form a bridge over the Milky Way thus enabling the two lovers to meet.

This day is also known as the Qiqiaojie 乞巧节 Festival. Qiqiao means Pray to Zhinü in order to master the skills of nügong ⼥工 — embroidery, sewing, knitting and weaving fabric. In traditional culture, women who mastered nügong were regarded as both superior and exceptional. So, on the night of the Qiqiao Festival, women prayed eagerly to the star Vega to receive nügong skills.

Another tradition relating to this day was that young girls threaded needles in the dark and asked Zhinü for nügong skills to become accomplished embroiderers and weavers.

The seventh day of the seventh month was also the day when a good house- wife cleaned the house, airing clothes and books in the courtyard. This day was guaranteed to be free from sun, which could damage the clothes or books, the sun hidden by the thick cloud of magpies forming the bridge and concealing the lovers’ happy meeting. A rain falling that night was the tears of the couple separating for another year.

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Niulang and Shinü. Wörlitz Palace

In the print we see Niulang as a young boy, standing by his ox with a flute, which could also be used as a whip, tucked into the back of his belt. He holds his straw hat and looks at Zhinü who floats on a cloud, preparing to return to her heavenly domain. She holds a fuchen 拂塵, a dust whisk, and a branch of leaves in her hands. The dust whisk signifies swishing away worldly problems. Zhinü has a high tied-up hairdo in a style worn by Daoist nuns, a long ribbon, taozi 縧子, around her arms, a ruqun 襦裙, long skirt with a coat, and around her waist is wrapped a cloth made of leaves, also of Daoist origin, tied with a long belt. Between them flutter the magpies who form the bridge over which they can cross the Milky Way which separates them.

Besides conveying eternal love, the print illustrates the moment the lovers part after their yearly meeting: the boy prepares to throw his hat as a memento to the maiden who, in her turn, sweeps away with her dust whisk the sadness of separation.

The Wörlitz print is to be compared with a similar print in my collection.

CVDB-113

Niulang and Shinü. Author’s collection

Here Niulang is seated on his ox and has just thrown his hat to Zhinü (compare with the Wörlitz print where he prepares to throw it). Many details are the same in the two prints: the shading of the ox’s back with white spots, hairs on legs and head, shoes, style of the hat, flute on the back, the eye-contact between the actors, the floating cloud, etc. etc. Zhinü is also similarly depicted in the two prints. Her dress is similar, the cloth made of leaves tied with a long belt around the waist, the dust whisk, etc. Instead of the branch our Zhinü holds a peach, the symbol of long life. The backdrop to the scene in both prints is a landscape with a dead tree and a waterfall, skilfully and artistically depicted.

Both prints are printed in black and hand-coloured, and measure c. 100×60 cm. The style and execution is in imitation of western copper engravings, with hatched lines and shading.

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Niulang and Shinü. Lichtenwalde Palace

Another example of my print, somewhat faded and rubbed, is on the wall of the Chinesisches Zimmer (Chinese Room) at Schloss Lichtenwalde in Germany. This room contains 34 paintings and woodblock prints predominantly of female figures. The palace was built in the 1720s and the Chinese Room finished between 1739 and 1750, as confirmed by recent research on the wooden frames holding the prints and paintings in place. [Anke Scharrahs, Internal report – Restauratorische Befunduntersuchung Chinesisches Zimmer, Schloß Lichtenwalde, 2012.]

This gives us a welcome ‘latest date’ for this kind of print used as wallpapers in Europe, and a yardstick by which to date other similar prints, namely the early Qianlong reign.

Similarities between these two prints indicate that a certain common tradition existed in the depiction of the two lovers and their attributes (dust whisk, flute, etc), a tradition that continued throughout the Qianlong reign and lived on into the Jiaqing reign as evidenced by this final print.

CVDB-104

Niulang and Shinü. Jiaqing reign, 1796-1820. Author’s collection

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Prints in Schloss Wörlitz 2 – Jubaopen

Above another door in Wörlitz Palace is a print, an example of which is also in my collection, Jubaopen 聚寶盆 Basin of Treasure.

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Jubaopen print above door in Wörlitz Palace.

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Jubaopen print above door in Wörlitz Palace.

This second Wörlitz print measures 108×59 cm (taken from the red border), mine is 105×54,5 cm.

My print is hand-coloured, whereas the Wörlitz is in black-and-white, same as the Wannian Bridge print. The Wörlitz print also retains its outer black printed border, which has been trimmed away in mine as well as in all the other three published examples. One of these is in Akita City Hall Museum, Japan, the two others are only known from illustrations in books and their present whereabouts is unknown.

[The Akita City Hall Museum 秋田市立乡土馆 example is illustrated in Aoki, S., Kobayashi, H., & Machida Shiritsu Kokusai Hanga Bijutsukan. 中国の洋風画展 : 明末から清時代の絵画、版画、挿絵本. Chūgoku no yōfūga ten : Minmatsu kara Shin jidai no kaiga, hanga, sashiebon. Tōkyō and Machida, Machida Shiritsu Kokusai Hanga Bijutsukan 町田市立国際版 画美術館, 1995, fig. 127; in Feng Jicai ed. 中国木版年画集成·日本藏品卷 Zhongguo Nianhua Jicheng: Riben Cangpin Juan. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2011, p.39; and Zhang Ye 张烨: 洋风姑苏版研究 Yangfeng Gusuban yanjiu (The Study of Western-influenced Gusu Prints). Beijing, Wenwu chubanshe, 2012, fig. 71b.
Another example, with damage to the bottom part of the basin is illustrated in Higuchi Hiroshi 樋口弘: 中國版畫集成 Chūgoku hanga shūsei, A Historical Sketch of Chinese Woodblock Prints. Tōkyō, Mitō Shooku 味燈書屋, 1967, fig. 147.
The last example, trimmed down to 89,8×44,6 cm, is illustrated in Yamato Bunkakan Museum: 中国の明清时代の版画 Chūgoku no Min Shin jidai no hanga. Chinese woodcuts and etchings of the Ming and Ch’ing dynasties. Nara, Yamato Bunkakan, 1972, fig. 81.]

Jubaopen is printed from three woodblocks which have been joined together. However, the image is not divided up in three sections, as the Wannian Bridge print is, but forms a continuous image.

In the print are seen both fictitious and historical personalities. Representing the historical is the famous Living Wealth God, Shen Wansan 沈万三. Shen’s real name was Shen Fu 沈富 and he was one of the wealthiest men of his day in Suzhou, during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Shen’s legend tells that he was a poor fisherman who became rich after finding a basin in his net. When his wife dropped her jewellery in the basin, it suddenly filled with jewels. Experiments with other objects had similar results. In our print Shen is shown not as a poor fisherman but as the wealthy man he really was. We see him sitting on the right in Daoist garments under a yaoqianshu 搖錢樹, money tree, a legendary tree that sheds coins when shaken (we all wish we had one!). He is surrounded in the pavilion by his many wives, children and attendants. The latter are holding a vase; a ruyi auspicious ornament; a fan on a long pole; and a staff with hanging-tassels, all symbols of wealth, fortune, and privilege respectively. There are further depictions of Shen Fu’s wealth: assistants who weigh and tally his money, and a number of foreigners who bring him yet more riches.

Most of the ladies have elaborate coiffures, cloud-shaped shoulder covers, and long coats with a long skirt wrapped with a cloth around the waists, known as ruqun 襦裙, all in the late Ming fashion. Some of the older boys wear guan 冠, an official’s hat, whilst the younger boys have hair buns in a style entitled zongjiao 總角.

In the middle lower part is prominently displayed the basin, containing pearls, coral and ingots, being further filled from above by a Qian Long 錢龍, a ‘money dragon’ or a dragon of wealth, ensnarled in a money tree, and spewing out jewels, ingots, coins and auspicious symbols such as a ruyi sceptre and swastika, wan 卍, characters, the latter symbols for infinity. The basin is inscribed jubaopen 聚寶盆 – Treasure Basin. There was a play called Jubaopen, written by a Suzhou kunqu 昆曲 playwright and popular in the seventeenth century, which could well have provided the inspiration for this image, which is one of the earliest depictions of the fabled Shen Wanshan.

In the top section can be seen the Immortal Liu Hai 瀏海, also a god of wealth, and his magic three-legged toad which Liu Hai, according to popular folklore, lured with a coin attached to a cord. To the right are the two Hehe or Harmony Brothers, Hehe Erxian 和合二仙, one with a box  盒, the other with a lotus flower 菏, both pronounced he, thus forming the homonym for Hehe. One should also note that the Chinese word for harmony 和 is also pronounced he. In the centre of a courtyard near the top of the print are the Three Star Gods — Fu 福, Lu 祿, and Shou 壽, representing Fortune, Prosperity, and Longevity.

The Star God of Longevity, Shouxing 壽星, has a bald head, long beard and holds a walking stick. He looks at a boy who offers him a big peach, the peach another symbol of long life. The Fuxing 福星, the Star God of Fortune, holds a young boy indicating that he brings sons to families. The Star God of Prosperity, Luxing 祿星, holds a ruyi sceptre and has a young attendant behind him holding a fan, and a small boy leaning at his side. There are two other boys in the middle of the Three Stars, fighting to grab an Osmanthus branch, known as guizhi 桂枝, where the gui 桂 is a homophone of gui 貴, noble status, which symbolises Duo Sheng Gui Zi 多生貴子, To Give Birth to Many Noble Sons.

At the back of the courtyard, in a hallway, two female servants carry a jar of wine and a plate of peaches. To the right, a woman peeks out from a moon gate, a servant behind her holding a long-staffed feather fan, a symbol of imperial privilege. The woman probably has royal status and lives in a palace. Two sika deer, lu 鹿, look up at two flying cranes, he 鶴, together symbolizing the phrase Liuhe Tongchun 六合同春, meaning The Whole Universe Enjoys Longevity.

Twelve foreigners at bottom left and right come riding on exotic and mythical animals – elephant, horse, tiger, camel, lion, qilin, dragon, dressed in non-Chinese clothes and hats. They too bring more riches to Shen. Ellen Laing suggests that trade with the West brought riches, here symbolised by these foreigners. [Ellen Johnston Laing: “城外来财,迎财神和发财还家 — 年画中的三个相关主题 Chengwai laicai, ying caishen he facai huanjia — nianhua zhongde sange xiangguan zhuti”. “Wealth from Abroad, Welcoming the Wealth God and Returning home Wealthy: Three Related Themes Depicted in New Year’s Prints,” published in Nianhua yanjiu 年画研究, 2013, pp. 108-122. Beijing, Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 2013.]

The print was used at New Year and expresses the wish May the Gods of Fortune and Longevity Protect You and Bring You Inexhaustible Treasures, and May You Become as Rich as Shen Wansan.

Since the Wörlitz Palace was constructed between 1769 and 1773, we can firmly attribute a Qianlong reign date (1736-96) to this print, well before 1773.

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Prints in Schloss Wörlitz 1 – Wannian Bridge

A recent visit to palaces and museums in north Germany yielded an unexpected treasure chest of Chinese woodblock prints dating from the eighteenth century.

Schloss Wörlitz, in Sachsen-Anhalt, north of Leipzig, was built 1769-1773 for Duke Leopold III (1740-1817). Presumedly, the Chinese prints in two of the rooms were pasted to the walls at this time.
The prints are located high up on the wall and thus very difficult to view. However, the very kind curator Uwe Quilitzsch, not only opened the palace for my wife and me (otherwise closed for the winter season) but also provided a ladder so I could take a closer look. He later also kindly sent better photographs than those I was able to take and some of them I publish here with his permission.

One print is familiar to me: Wannian Qiao 萬年橋, Wannian Bridge or Bridge of Ten Thousand Years.

Wannian Bridge print above door

Wannian Bridge print above door, Wörlitz Palace

 

The print sits high above a door opening and, to each side of the print is a painted cracked-ice patterned vase with coral branches.

Wannian Bridge, Wörlitz Palace

Wannian Bridge, dated 1744. Wörlitz Palace

 

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Wannian Bridge, dated 1744. Wörlitz Palace

Other examples of this same print exist but in slightly different version.

Wannian Bridge, coloured version with 'rubbing'. From Higuchi 1967, pl.1

Wannian Bridge, coloured version with ‘rubbing’. Dated 1744. From Higuchi 1967, pl.1

 

 

The top section in those other prints consists of text in imitation of a rubbing, but was actually woodblock printed.

Wannian Bridge, text on 'rubbing'. Bibliothèque nationale de France

Wannian Bridge, text on ‘rubbing’. Dated 1744. Bibliothèque nationale de France

The text on the ‘rubbings’ is an eulogy to Wannian Bridge, and ends with the signature Wang Taoxi Zhuren 望桃溪主人, Master Wang Taoxi and the date 1744. The bridge was completed in 1740 and given its name by the Qianlong Emperor. The bridge can still be seen in Suzhou today.

Examples of this print are to be found in a private collection, Japan, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and a third is illustrated in Higuchi Hiroshi 樋口弘: Chūgoku Hanga Shūsei 中國版畫集成 A Historical Sketch of Chinese Woodblock Prints. Tōkyō, Mitō Shooku 味燈書屋, 1967, plate 1 (illustrated above), present whereabouts is unknown.

These other prints are all hand-coloured, whereas the Wörlitz example is black-and-white, and is also the only one to retain its printed black border around the image.

The top section of the Wörlitz print continues the cityscape of the two lower sections and ends with a distant view of Shantang Canal 山塘河 and Huqiu Hill 虎丘山. The famous Tong Bridge 桐桥 and Puji Bridge 普济桥 are also visible. A small inscription is at top right: Gusu Wannian Qiao Shengjing 姑蘇萬年橋勝景, Famous View of Wannian Bridge.

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Inscription on Wannian Bridge, dted 1744. Wörlitz Palace

Comparison between the various prints tends to indicate that the Wörlitz print is from fresher, less worn woodblocks and therefore the earliest printed. However, the comparison is from low-resolution photographs and printed reproductions, so inconclusive.

A major question is: why was the top section replaced by text imitating a rubbing in later versions? One can see that the image of the print is made up from three woodblocks joined together, a not uncommon feature considering the size of the print, ca 100×50 cm. There are several occurrences where a single section, usually the bottom section of these three-section prints, has been used as a self-standing print and image. Perhaps the top woodblock in our case was lost or damaged and it was easier to cut a text block as a replacement rather than a more complicated city view? It should be mentioned that a  print illustrating Wannian Bridge is in the Kobe City Museum collection (an example of this print is also in the British Museum, as we recently found out). That print also has text in its upper section and two bottom sections showing the bridge, very much like the Wörlitz print. Both prints are seen from about the same viewpoint and show the bridge from a slight angle. No doubt one print copies the other, but difficult to say which copied which.

Wannian Bridge, Dated 1740. Kobe City Museum. 92,3×53,5 cm.

The Kobe (and BM) print bears the date 1740, the same year as the bridge was inaugurated. If the bridge was inaugurated in 1740, it would certainly have taken the artist, the block cutter and the printer some time to complete the print.

To illustrate further how parts of prints were used as autonomous prints see the discussion: Three Rediscovered Prints.

The Wannian Qiao print in Schloss Wörlitz is a unique complete specimen and is the earliest printed version known. Other examples of this print are reduced in image and the upper section has been replaced with a woodblock-printed imitation of a rubbing. The text of the ‘rubbing’ is signed and dated 1744. The bridge was completed in 1740 and the Wörlitz Palace in 1773, thus it took around twenty five to thirty years for the print to make the journey from Suzhou to Wörlitz. It would be interesting to learn the details of this journey – who bought the print in China, by which route did it travel, where was the port of entry into Europe, who marketed it, who bought it, and who papered it onto the wall in the Palace?

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Wishes Come True – The Final Beauty Descends

In the entry A Gusu Beauty Appears hopes were expressed for the missing fourth print in the tetraptych of Literati Pursuits to appear at an auction sale, mainly so that it could be added to the collection. Well, an auction in New York in September 2018 featured just this print and my wish came true.

The print shows three boys squatting around a chess board while a fourth boy huddles behind his onlooking mother. The scene takes place in a garden, in front of the railing with lion finials, which is also seen in the other three prints. The needed tree is to the right, together with a taihu rock.

Compared with the other three prints comprising the tetraptych, this one is in bad condition, being dirty and stained. It has been cut down on all four sides (95.2 x 54.6cm), the paper has browned and the colours have faded. There are plenty of old repairs and some in-painting. It is most likely that the print has been exposed on a wall, either as a wallpaper or as a picture.

However, the print is unique and it was impossible to resist adding it to the collection in order to complete this, the second such tetraptych of Gusu Beauties. For the first tetraptych see Suzhou Beauties Formats

According to information given, the print was acquired in Europe, possibly in the 1970s or 1980s.

Now, the wish is for a better example of the print to appear somewhere. Never lose hope!

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Dates for Wang Junfu 王君甫

Recently, a map entitled Da Ming Jiubian Wanguo Renji Lucheng Quantu 大明九边万国人迹路程全图 “The Routes to Great Ming from All Nations”, ca. 120×120 cm., came to light.

Of interest is the fact that it is signed in upper left part and dated: Kangxi ernian guimao shangyuan jidan 康熙二年癸卯上元吉旦 and Gusu Wang Junfu faxing 姑蘇王君甫發行. Second year of Kangxi reign, ie 1663.

Date and signature

Date and signature

Wang Junfu was an artist/printer who has signed four other prints:

1) Wanguo Lai Chao 万国来朝 All Nations Coming to Court. 39,3×59,6 cm (paper sheet). British Museum, 1920,1216,0.1.

Wanguo Laichao - All Nations Coming to Court

Wanguo Laichao – All Nations Coming to Court

Same signature as on the map: Gusu Wang Junfu fa xing 故蘇王君甫發行

2) Ershiba Sunao Kunyang 二十八宿闹昆阳 Twenty-eight Generals at Kunyang. 37,7×58,9 cm. Private collection, Japan.

Ershiba Sunao Kunyang  - Twenty-eight Generals at Kunyang

Ershiba Sunao Kunyang – Twenty-eight Generals at Kunyang

Signed Wang Junfu fa xing 王君甫發行

3) Shen Wansan Jubaopen Tu 沈萬三聚寶盆圖 Shen Wansan’s Treasure Bowl. 37,8×58,8 cm. Tenri Library.

Shen Wan san Ju bao pen Tu 沈萬三聚寶盆圖

Shen Wan san Ju bao pen Tu 沈萬三聚寶盆圖

Signed Wang Junfu fa xing 王君甫發行

4) San Zang Xi Tian Qu Jing 三藏西天取經 Scenes from Monk San Zang’s Pilgrimage to the West. 39,2 x 59,8 cm. Dresden Kupferstichkabinett. This print was first inventoried in 1738.

Sān zàng xī tiān qǔ jīng 三藏西天取經

Sān zàng xī tiān qǔ jīng 三藏西天取經

Signed Wang Junfu fa ke  王君甫發客

The four signatures are different in style and position:

in 1) it is within a cartouche in the middle of the left inner margin and with Gusu mentioned;

in 2) within a cartouche in the lower left inner margin;

in 3) in the lower left inner margin, but without cartouche;

and in 4) boldly printed in the lower left part of the print.

Two of the prints have a printed black border (1 and 2). The title of the image is printed within a framed rectangle on the upper part of the print, two are centred close to the upper margin (1 and 2; same prints which have a printed border), the other two are placed left and right of centre, 4) is within the image. The printed image is roughly 38,5×59 cm, and with colours applied by printing blocks.

Among the extant prints, few carry Kangxi reign dates. Thanks to the 1663 dating on the map we are able to ascertain that Wang Junfu was active during this period. The style, format and subject of Wang’s prints are similar to prints by other artists, and, consequently, a Kangxi date can be attributed to those other prints.

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A Gusu Beauty Appears

It has been rewarding to research the prints to which I have given the name Gusu Beauties, Gusu being today’s Suzhou, and such prints depicting a beautiful and elegant lady involved in various pursuits — reading, painting, writing, etc. or just contemplating boys playing at her feet. See Suzhou print 1 onwards through Suzhou print 9. These eighteenth-century prints have appeared in auction sales, at dealers and are hanging on walls in mansions and castles around Europe. The richest source is of course Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria. No examples of such prints with any provenance are extant in China or Japan.

Perhaps the most exciting finding was that four of these prints together formed one continuous scene, a tetraptych, the first occurrence of this format in Chinese printmaking.

Tetraptych consisting of prints Nos. 2, 5, 8 & 1

Tetraptych consisting of prints Nos. 2, 5, 8 & 1

The reader will remember that there were two further prints in the series which formed a pair — Beauty 3 and Beauty 4.

Beauty 3

Beauty 3

Beauty 4

Beauty 4

and perhaps the thought that these two prints were also part of a tetraptych might have occured. As fate had it, a print appeared recently in a provincial auction sale in Belgium, catalogued as belonging to the nineteenth century. It undoubtedly represents print number 4 in such a tetraptych.

Gusu Beauty no. 11

Beauty 11

The common details linking the images together are the balustrade and the lion finials, the garden setting, the tree with its overhead crown of foliage, and a lady accompanied by four young boys. It is also obvious that these prints form a group showing the pursuits of the literati scholar: qin, qi, shu, hua 琴,棋,書,畫 or music, chess, calligraphy/reading, and painting. The calligraphy scene is represented by a lady with a book, the character shu 書 is interchangeable for calligraphy and book. Thanks to this we also now know what the missing second from right print should look like: a lady with four boys, a balustrade with lion filials, a tree trunk on the right, and a wei qi chess board, possibly being played by two of the boys.

So far I have no knowledge that such a chess-playing print is extant anywhere, but I am optimistic about it appearing somewhere, either on some castle or manor wall, or in a drawer in a library/museum, or even better, at least for me, in some auction sale.

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Three Gusu Prints in the Round

Three small Gusu (Suzhou) prints in my collection show influences from Western prints. All three are round prints, a rather unusual format, circa 25 cm in diameter. No other prints of this kind have been documented or published. The first shows four figures respectfully greeting two figures arriving on a boat, one an elderly bearded sage holding a tall staff, with five tassels hanging from it, and the other younger and smaller, perhaps an assistant. Both wear black headgears in the style of wushamao 烏紗帽, the hat worn by Ming officials, with flaps standing straight out and up, like ‘Mickey Mouse’ ears. The younger fellow’s hat however lacks the upright flap at the back.

Round Gusu print with Christian(?) motif. Author’s collection. Diameter 27 cm.

Three of the adoring figures are of Central Asian origin judging from their dress and hair styles, not unlike those of tribute carriers seen in some Suzhou prints. The two bald headed front-most figures offer coral branches while the third figure raises his joined hands under his sleeves. This last man wears an elaborate hat and a bushy beard. The fourth figure is Chinese and female, she also raises her hands under her sleeves. Her ornate headdress features two long peacock feathers. Maybe she represents Magu, 麻姑 the Daoist immortal, offering longevity. Coral branch (珊瑚 shanhu) and peacock feathers (花翎 hualing) can also symbolize May you achieve the highest official rank (翎頂輝煌 lingding huihuang or 紅頂花翎 hongding hualing).

There is apparently a message in this print, but the correct reading is difficult. What is the meaning of depicting Central Asian figures? Why the Chinese female? Why revive a Ming-style hat? Who are the persons wearing these hats?  My initial impression to this print was that it was Christian. The italianate buildings in the background on the other side of the water is clearly a European pastiche, the wushamao is similar to the hat worn by Matteo Ricci’s most important convert, Paul Hsu, as illustrated in Athanasius Kircher’s China monumentis…illustrata, 1667.

Image result for nieuhof embassy

Matteo Ricci and Xu Guangqi (Paul Hsu 徐光啓) Li Yingshi (李应试, Li Paul). Engraving from Athanasius Kircher’s China monumentis…illustrata, 1667.

The bearded person on the arriving boat is of biblical magnitude and stature. What we have here is is possibly a piece of surreptitious Christian propaganda, showing how the arrival of the faith by boat is welcomed by all people of Asia.

Pair of Gusu prints signed by Yüfeng Guan Lian 玉峰管聯. Author’s collection. Diameter 24,4 / 24 cm.

The second and third prints are more secular in spirit and perhaps form a pair, considering they have the arches of a tower building in common. The round openings are also showing the inner edges of the wall through which we see the scenes. In the right-hand print we see the right inner edge and for the left we see the left inner edge, as if we were standing in front, between the prints, and looking at them right and left. Or is it as seen through a pair of binoculars, although this would be a very early use in China of such instrument? The right-hand print’s edge has been cross-hatched, just as in the Christian print above. Another Western feature in these prints is the perspective angles of the motifs: in the left-hand print the angle of the lines run towards the right, and in the right-hand print towards the left. The colours of these two prints look as if applied later, perhaps in Europe. The faces are painted pink, with red markings on chin, mouth and nose, and the eyes are small crossed dots, all features uncommon for Chinese colouring of prints.

The left print shows an arched bridge over which some riders are preparing to cross. On the other bank and in the background are some buildings. The right-hand print, besides the half-arch of a tower, shows a pailou 牌樓, a three-arched gate, by the bank of a lake. Some boats are moored on the bank, one being discharged of its cargo. In the distant background is seen another bridge and some buildings. Birds fly in scattered formations in the sky in both prints.

The inscription on the left print reads: Yüfeng Guan Lian bi 玉峰管聯筆 and on the right: Yüfeng Guan Lian xie yu Yanyunxuan 玉峰管聯寫於硯雲軒, which translates to Brushed by Guan Lian from Yüfeng and Written in the Ink-stone Cloud Studio by Guan Lian from Yüfeng. Traditionally Yüfeng 玉峰, Jade Peak, is associated with the Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing, but we can assume that Guan Lian was not from there, but from some other place with the similar name in Zhejiang. We know of two other occurrences where Guan Lian has signed prints: the Han Gong Chunxiao (汉宫春晓 View of Han Palace in Early Spring) and Afang Gongtu (阿房宫圖 Afang Palace).

DraggedImage

Han Gong Chunxiao 汉宫春晓 View of Han Palace in Early Spring. Author’s collection. 30×30 cm.

Machida 參9

Afang Palace. Umi Mori Art Museum, Japan. 64×38,5 cm.

The Han Gong Chunxiao was discussed earlier in this blog ([More on West Lake Panorama]). In all four of these inscribed prints we see the same bare mountains, often striated to give volume and perspective, the similar formations of open-V flying birds, and the somewhat sprawling writing. Three of the prints start with the same six characters 玉峰管聯寫於 but then the last three differs: 硯雲軒, 研雲居, and 雲水閣 (Yanyunxuan Ink-stone Cloud Studio, Yanyunju Cloud Research Home, and Yunshuige Cloudy Lake Pavilion). In all cases yun, cloud, is involved and some kind of abode is implied. Yanyun is used twice, but with different characters for yan. Guan Lian was perhaps a humorous artist amusing himself by signing with the same sounding characters but always with different meaning. We need to find more prints by him to verify this theory. There is an occurence of Guan Lian’s name in the 杭州府志 (Hangzhou Gazetteer, Qianlong edition). He is named as a military official, from Haining County, Zhejiang Province, so presumably a different Guan Lian from our artist although with the same characters.

The Afang Palace and the Han Palace are signed in the margin by Guan Ruiyü 管瑞玉, who we have seen also designed the West Lake Panorama, the Pingyuan Weilie, and the series of Gusu Beauties discussed earlier in this blog. Accordingly, it is very tempting to attribute the two round prints signed Guan Lian to this same Guan Ruiyü. After all, Guan Lian might just be another name, a zi, for Guan Ruiyü. While we are speculating, we might as well assume that the round Christian print was also executed by Guan Ruiyü for two reasons: the round format, the cross-hatching of the edge in the opening, and the fact that this print was bought at an auction sale together with Han Gong Chunxiao. I readily admit that the latter is very speculative but it would not be impossible that Guan Ruiyü gave or sold these two prints to some European, who then brought them to Europe where they remained together until they surfaced in the auction sale. Unfortunately, it is not possible to find out anything about the provenance of the prints, sadly a general trait for most Chinese prints. A Western pen has written C7.inv(?) and C8.inv(?) in the margin and p.2.2. on the back of the prints, so maybe they have belonged to a larger set in an European collection.

The above mentioned smaller-sized prints, including the West Lake Panorama prints and the Afang Palace, together with some prints at the Kupferstich-Kabinett in Dresden, comprise a group of Gusu prints executed in various tones of black and grey in imitation of copper engravings or grisaille prints. This was done intentionally in order to give the prints a Western flavour and thus satisfy the strong demand at the time for images in the European style. Judging by the number of prints extant with this trait, the fashion and fancy for such prints was considerable. The fortuitous fact that the Dresden prints were inventoried 1738 gives us a rough idea of the date of all these prints.

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More on West Lake Panorama

Anita Wang, Wang Xiaoming, has pointed out some mistakes in my previous entry and has also contributed some very pertinent information which warrants an article of its own.

Corrections

I made a mistake in transcribing the signature on the print of the Afang Palace, writing gu su shi jia juan guan rui yü cang ban 姑蘇史家管瑞玉藏板 whereas it should be gu su shi jia xiang guan rui yü cang ban 姑蘇史家管瑞玉藏板. Now corrected.

Umi Art Museum should read Umi Mori Art Museum, now corrected.

Anita’s Comments

These are Anita’s words, with slight editing on my part:

“According to the Suzhou Gazetteer, Suzhou Fuzhi苏州府志, Shijia xiang 史家巷 was the name of a street located in central Suzhou nearby Daxin xiang 大新巷 Church, and this indicates the influence of Catholic activity in the area.

Map of Suzhou

Map of central Suzhou

Furthermore, in the collection of the Umi Mori Art Museum another print, which forms the pair with the print Afang Palace, has the following written on the top: Yufeng Guanlian Xieyu Yanyun Ju 玉峰管联写于研云居

Machida 參9

Left part of Afang Palace

Machida 參9 - Version 2

Text on top of Afang Palace print

The print Hangong Palace 汉宫春晓图 in your collection has a similar inscription Yufeng Guanlian Xieyu Yunshui Ge 玉峰管联写于云水阁 which indicates Yanyun Ju 研云居 and Yunshui Ge 云水阁 are possibly both the workshops of the artist Guanlian 管联, and Guanlian might be the courtesy name of Guan Ruiyu 管瑞玉.”

I think these observations give us a broader perspective on the activities of the print studios, and geographically anchors Guan Ruiyü’s studio around the corner from the main Taohuawu Street.

Anita continues to write:

“I think these black and white prints were not the complete version selling in Chinese market, they were meant to be painted with colours like the print Pingyuan Weilie (平原圍獵).

DraggedImage-1

Pingyuan Weilie

In Chinese tradition, the uncoloured prints were definitely not popular to be used as the house wall decorations, they were possibly only bought by European merchants.”

Also a very interesting observation. Presumably an uncoloured print would be cheaper to purchase than a coloured one.

Dating of the Chaloner prints

We do not have the benefit of a date on the Chaloner or Douce prints, but if one is allowed to make a comparison with another print in a private Japanese collection we arrive to about the 1730s. This print, entitled tai xi wu ma tu 泰西五马图 or Western Picture of Five Horses, shows all the same traits as the Chaloner and Douce prints – view of West Lake, similar size, western style copper engraving imitation, etc.

Taibei83-Taixi wuma tu

Western Picture of Five Horses

This print is dated 壬子, which is equivalent to the 10th year of the yongzheng reign, or 1732. It should be mentioned that a Japanese exhibition catalogue dates this print to 17921 but I believe, as do two recent Chinese publications2, that it belongs to the first half of the eighteenth century.

Thank you, Anita, and I hope to receive more comments and contributions from other readers.

  1. Aoki, S., Kobayashi, H., & Machida Shiritsu Kokusai Hanga Bijutsukan. (1995). “Chūgoku no yōfūga” ten: Minmatsu kara Shin jidai no kaiga, hanga, sashiebon. Tōkyō-to Machida-shi: Machida Shiritsu Kokusai Hanga Bijutsukan. 中国の洋風画」展:明末から清時代の絵画、版画、挿絵本, 東京:町田市立国際版 画美術館, item 122. ↩︎
  2. 中国木版年画集成·日本藏品卷, p.112 and 康乾盛世-蘇州版, p.26 ↩︎
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