Announcing an Exhibition: The Brilliance of Suzhou Prints – Popular Art that Blossomed in the Cosmopolitan City

The Ming and Qing dynasties in particular saw a long tradition of print art in China, which flourished during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Prints of various genres, including auspicious prints for the New Year and longevity celebrations, landscapes, bird and flower prints and prints of beautiful women, adorned people’s homes. Prints produced in Suzhou and its suburbs were distributed abroad from the 17th century, influencing European art and inducing Japanese ukiyo-e prints.

However, many of the prints consumed in daily life were ephemeral and easily discarded when a new year occurred. The few prints that have survived are now little known—true relics.

With over 3,000 Chinese prints in its collection, the collection of the Umi-Mori Art Museum is one of the best in the world in terms of quality and quantity. One of its distinguishing features is that the collection is dominated by single-sheet prints from the 17th-20th centuries.

The museum is now mounting an exhibition featuring approximately 300 outstanding works from the museum’s collection, and invites visitors to enjoy the beautiful and profoundly unknown world of Chinese prints from the 17th to the 20th century. A 400-page, fully colour-illustrated catalogue is published describing the prints, although only in Japanese.

The exhibition will be in two parts:

(First part) 11 March – 6 May, 2023 (49 days)

​(Second part) 3 June – 13 August 2023 (62 days)

For opening hours and further details, please click here or see brochure enclosed below.

In context with the exhibition, a two-day international conference will take place on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th of May, at the Museum. There will be simultaneous interpretation in three languages (English, Japanese and Chinese) and held via Zoom. Registration for participation is free but required.

The Museum and its acting curator, Takayuki Aoki, are to be commended for their activity and efforts in offering us this opportunity to view unique and otherwise hidden treasures. Mr Aoki’s generous attitude towards open-door display and access is a blessing in a country where otherwise viewing of prints and books is rationed to a limited number per visit and person—a sad and counter-productive policy.

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In my entry WENFANGTU 文房圖 Prints of Scholarly and Other Objects, I mentioned that Kee Il Choi, Jr. was writing an article with bearing on the wenfangtu prints. This article has now been published as: From Lieux to Meubles: Chinese Woodblock Prints and French Marquetry of the 1770s on pp. 129-155 in Furniture History, Vol. LVIII, 2022, the journal of the Furniture History Society. In his erudite article, Choi identifies and describes a number of French furniture pieces, mostly datable to the 1770s, with marquetry (wood intarsia) of items selected from the different prints described in my blog. We find steelyards and abacus, pots and vases, fans and brush pots, etc., all verbatim borrowed from the prints and arranged in a new media.

We know the wenfangtu prints were dispersed as far and wide as the Czech Republic, England, and Sweden. Now we have evidence that they also reached France, and where they had a very strong impact on the high-society furniture industry.

Rene Dubois (maître, 1754–99), Writing cabinet (Secrétaire à abattant) (c. 1775). Kingwood, Tulipwood, Satinwood, wood, gilt-bronze (ormolu), marble, leather, steel, brass. (a-i) 138.4 × 84.2 × 37.5 cm (overall).

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1948. Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Every new acquisition of a print is exciting but the print to be discussed took my breath away when I first saw images of it. It comes to me in a roundabout way since it was bought recently at a French auction by my friend and fellow collector, Liang Jianning, who later generously agreed to exchange it for another Gusu Beauty print that I had in duplicate. I am most grateful to him for allowing this exchange.

Lady Playing the Qin
Lady Playing the Qin. 112 × 56,8 cm. Author’s collection

What then is so exciting about the print, you wonder? Well, first of all it carries the studio name of Guan Ruiyu 管瑞玉, who until recently had only been known as the signatory of two prints. One of those signatures is in the margin of a black and white print pair, Epang Gong Tu 阿房宮圖 (View of the Epang Palace), now in the Umi-Mori Art Museum.1 The second occurs on Gusu Beauty No. 8 where Guan’s signature is in the picture itself, on a board hanging on the wall behind the Beauty. Today we know of at least eight other prints which can be attributed to this artist, see below.

A unique feature of the print is that it is divided in two parts, an upper scene with five adults and four children. The lower and larger main scene is that of two beauties on a terrace seen through a moon-gate. I have hitherto never seen a similar print with two different scenes on the same sheet. Initially I thought the print consisted of two sheets glued together, but it proved to be one single sheet of paper, 112 × 56,8 cm.

The upper part shows Shouxing, Luxing and Fuxing (壽星,禄星, 福星) representing the gods of Longevity, Wealth and Happiness. Here they are in the guise of a Buddhist monk with a walking staff, a Daoist dignity holding a ruyi sceptre and fanned by two female companions, and a Confucian scholar carrying a child in his arms. Everyone’s attention is directed towards three yellow citrons (xiangyuan 香櫞) on the ground—a rebus for three ‘firsts’ (yuan 元) in the official examinations. Above this, a brief text is partly hidden by a later paper border.

Detail of above, showing Shouxing, Luxing and Fuxing (壽星,禄星, 福星).

The text consists of a title, of which only the last character tu 圖 is visible, then a few characters and the signature Taowu Guan Lian 桃塢管聯 (Guan Lian of Taowu). Taowu is short for the district and street Taohuawu in Suzhou where most of the printshops were located in the late Kangxi – early Qianlong reigns (c. 1720–1750). Guan Lian might be the same artist as Guan Ruiyu, or a relative of him. Furthermore, in the lower left margin is printed Gusu Guan Ruiyu cang ban 姑蘇管瑞玉藏板 (Guan Ruiyu in Suzhou Holds the Woodblocks).

Guan Ruiyu is now known (thanks to recent discoveries) to have signed other prints as follows:

  1. In the margin of a black and white print, Epang Gong Tu 阿房宮圖 (View of the Epang Palace), now in the Umi-Mori Art Museum. Here the full signature is Gusu shijiaxiang Guan Ruiyu cang ban 姑蘇史家巷管瑞玉藏板 (Guan Ruiyu of Shijia Lane in Suzhou Holds the Woodblocks).
  2. In the margin of a black and white print, Han Gong Chunxiao 漢宮春曉 (Spring Morning in the Han Palace). Gusu Guan Ruiyu cang ban 姑蘇管瑞玉藏板 (Guan Ruiyu in Suzhou Holds the Woodblocks). The title text is signed Yufeng Guan Lian xie yu yunshui ge 玉峰管聯寫于雲水閣 (Drawn by Guan Lian of Yufeng at the Pavilion of Clouds and Water).
Han gong chun xiao 漢宮春曉 (Spring Morning in the Han Palace)
Han Gong Chunxiao 漢宮春曉 Spring Morning in the Han Palace. 30 × 30 cm. Author’s collection

3. In the margin of a coloured print, Pingyuan Wei Lie 平原圍獵 (Great Hunt on the Plain). Gusu Guan Ruiyu cang ban 姑蘇管瑞玉藏板.

Pingyuan wei lie 平原圍獵 (Great Hunt on the Plain)
Pingyuan Wei Lie 平原圍獵 (Great Hunt on the Plain). 114 × 56,2 cm. Author’s collection

4. On a board on a wall in a print titled Gusu Meiren – Dong 姑蘇美人 – 冬 (Gusu Beauty in Winter), is written Wumen Guan Ruiyu xie 吳門管瑞玉寫 (Drawn by Guan Ruiyu of Wumen [Suzhou]).

5. A print that is the left part of the pair with 4. above and of the same title. Signed Gusu Xinde Hao 姑蘓信德號 (Xinde Studio in Suzhou).

6. In the margins of two oblong black and white prints, Xihu quanjing 西湖全景 (Panoramic View of West Lake). Each has the inscription Xinde Hao, Gusu Guan Ruiyu ding xi xiyanghua fake 信德號 姑蘇管瑞玉頂 細西洋畫發客 (Guan Ruiyu, from Gusu published this finely-executed Western-style picture at Xinde Studio).

7. On two small round prints signed Yufeng Guan Lian 玉峰管聯 (Guan Lian from Yufeng).

8. A landscape print in the Umi-Mori Art Museum, Gongyuan Tu 宮苑圖 (Image of a Palace Garden) has a poem which ends with the signature Wujun Guan Lian cao 吳郡管聯草 (Drafted by Guan Lian from Wujun [Suzhou]).2 This print forms a pair with Zhe Gui Tu 折桂圖 (Gathering Osmanthus). Although unsigned, one can assume that this print is also designed by Guan Lian.

Gongyuan tu 宮苑圖 (Image of a Palace Garden). Umi Mori Art Museum
Gongyuan Tu 宮苑圖 Image of a Palace Garden. 107 × 53,8 cm. Umi Mori Art Museum
Zhe gui tu 折桂圖 (Gathering Osmanthus)
Zhe Gui Tu 折桂圖 Gathering Osmanthus. 119,3 × 62,2 cm. Author’s collection

9. The print under discussion, signed Taowu Guan Lian 桃塢管聯, Guan Lian of Taowu and in the margin: Gusu Guan Ruiyu cang ban 姑蘇管瑞玉藏板 (Guan Ruiyu in Suzhou Holds the Woodblocks).

The studio name of Xinde Hao had, until recently, been unique to 5. In item 6 it is interesting the way the studio name is written within a black frame in the margin. Across the top it reads Xinde Hao 信德號, and underneath, written vertically in two columns, from right to left: Gusu Guan Ruiyu ding – xi xiyanghua fake 姑蘇管瑞玉頂 – 細西洋畫發客 (Guan Ruiyu from Suzhou published this finely executed Western-style picture at Xinde Studio). This is an explicit statement of the influence of Western perspective and Western copperplate engraving techniques. We here have Xinde Hao printed only for the second time on any print, one that also mentions Guan Ruiyu, firmly anchoring this artist in the Xinde Studio.

The printshop Xinde Studio was presumably named after its owner who had the given name of Xinde. Wang Cheng-hua has speculated that Xinde and Guan Ruiyu were from the same family, or that Xinde’s full name was Guan Xinde.3 The name Guan Xinde was mentioned (in the legal case against the Jesuit Antonio José) as being a Catholic and a seller of Western-style pictures, thus confirming a link between the Suzhou printers and the Catholic community.4

A compilation of name occurrences:

Guan Ruiyu: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9

Guan Lian: 2, 7, 8, 9

Xinde Hao: 5, 6,

As mentioned, print 6 anchors Guan Ruiyu with Xindehao, and similarly our new print, 9, combines Guan Lian with Guan Ruiyu although we previously did know this through print 2. Guan Lian is variously referred to as being from Yufeng (7), Wujun (8), or Taowu (9), assumedly all references to Suzhou.

The print is backed on canvas and mounted in a simple wooden frame, into which the margins and part of the image had been folded. On three sides, strips of a Western(?) black-and-gold paper border with flower, star and meander patterns had been glued, covering part of the text and image. Where parts of this border has been removed, one can see the freshness of the colours and the paper. Obviously the border was added at an early stage after the print’s arrival in Europe.

Typical of Guan’s prints, where sky is shown, are the flying bird formations (except for the right-hand print of the pair in 8, Zhe Gui Tu 折桂圖 (Gathering Osmanthus)). Also the depiction of hills and mountains in the background is similar in all prints—even, undulating contours with slightly bending striations within.

Comparing the lower part of our print with those of the earlier discussed Gusu Beauties (October and November 2012) there are many similarities to be seen—the square floor boards, pillar holding up the ceiling, the moon-gate, taihu rock, bannisters, covered corridor in the background are all stock features in the Gusu Beauty prints, as is the colour scheme. From a compositional point of view, Gusu Beauty No. 3 is much like our print, even down to small details such as the embroidered textile covering the back of the chair. However, the facial features belong to an earlier style of prints, particularly the style or type found in the anonymous prints collected at Schloss Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel, Germany, which, by association, can be dated to the Kangxi reign. In those prints we see the elongated faces and the very high hairdos. The way the figures incline towards each other is also typical for those earlier prints. The later Gusu Beauties have rounder faces and different hairdos.

Beauty Looking into Mirror. Collection Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel
Beauty Looking into Mirror. 113 × 60 cm. Collection Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel

If I am allowed to speculate regarding my qin-playing beauty, I would say that she is from the Kangxi reign and the precursor to the series of ten prints which I have named Gusu Beauties. I think that Guan has followed, in his prints, a progression from small figures in large landscapes to larger figures in domestic settings. In our print, the figures are still in the middle ground, whereas in the Gusu Beauty prints they have advanced to take prominent position at the front.

As for the double image, I have no idea of how to interpret this. As mentioned, no other print from the eighteenth century shows this arrangement. The two scenes have nothing in common spiritually or iconographically, being two separate spheres—the upper being from the realm of gods and the lower is one of the four literati pursuits.

  1. See Machida Shiritsu Kokusai Hanga Bijutsukan. Chūgoku no yōfūga ten : Minmatsu kara Shin jidai no kaiga, hanga, sashiebon中国の洋風画展 : 明末から清時代の絵画、版画、挿絵本. Tōkyō and Machida: Machida Shiritsu Kokusai Hanga Bijutsukan 町田市立国際版 画美術館, 1995. 參3.
  2. 2007.15.
  3. Wang Cheng-hua 王正華: ‘Qingdai chu Hong qi zuowei chanye de Suzhou banhua yuqi shangye mianxiang’ 清代初中期作為產業的蘇州版畫與其商業面向 (Art as Commodity in Suzhou print production). 中央研究院近代史研究所集刊 第92期 (1916), Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History Academia Sinica 92, Taipei, 1916. 15.
  4. Guan Xinde 管信德 is recorded as having come from Changzhouxian (as did Ding Liangxian), who also sold yanghua (‘foreign pictures’ i.e., Western-style prints) for a living. See Wu Min 吴旻 and Han Qi 韓琦編, eds.: 欧洲所藏雍正乾隆朝天主教文献汇編 [Compilation of Catholic Documents of the Yongzheng and Qianlong Periods] (Shanghai, Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe, 2008), 219; Xu Yunxi 徐允希: 蘇州致命事略 [Mortal Affairs of Suzhou] (Shanghai, Tushanwan Suguan, n.d.), 71–79;
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My assumption that I had full awareness of where the majority of Chinese prints are located in Europe was shattered when I was informed by my Chinese friends that they had visited a small palace in Spain in which there were Chinese paintings and prints on the walls. I had no previous knowledge of this and I immediately went into research mode.

The Palacio de la Cotilla is situated c. 80 km northeast of Madrid in the small city of Guadalajara. In its Salón Chino are paintings on three of the walls and a row of eight prints high up on the fourth wall. Actually, this fourth wall is just an upper gable since the room continues under it into a space where music or theatre could be performed. Two painted wood pillars support the beam that holds up the gable.

The Salón was designed and decorated at the end of the nineteenth century, by which time the prints would already be well over 150 years old. It is obvious from their present condition that they had earlier and elsewhere been used as wall decorations. The paintings, which date from the second half of the eighteenth century, are said to have been acquired in Marseille and it is obvious that they also had a previous history somewhere else. Whether the prints were acquired in Marseille is not known.

A panoramic photograph explains the layout of the rather small room (c. 10×5 m):

Panorama of Salon Chino, Palacio de la Cotilla
Panorama of Salón Chino, Palacio de la Cotilla

Through an entrance at the narrow end of the room one sees two shuttered widows on the left, the recess in front and an entire wall on the right. The entrance wall and the two long walls are decorated with paintings on paper from floor to ceiling. Interesting as the paintings may be, it is the prints that have our attention here.

Gable wall with eight prints. Palacio de la Cotilla
Gable wall with eight prints. Palacio de la Cotilla

Three of the prints are known to us from before, being Gusu Beauties 2, 3 and 11.

Gusu Beauty 2. Palacio de la Cotilla
Gusu Beauty 2. Palacio de la Cotilla

Gusu Beauty 3. Palacio de la Cotilla
Gusu Beauty 3. Palacio de la Cotilla
Gusu Beauty 11. Palacio de la Cotilla
Gusu Beauty 11. Palacio de la Cotilla

Beauties 3 and 11 are duplicated in the Salón’s presentation. It is notable that Beauty 11 was unknown to me (undocumented) previous to my acquisition in 2019 and since then four further examples have appeared: one in a private collection, London; one in a French auction in 2022; and now the two in Palacio de la Cotilla.

The remaining three prints are previously unknown to me and appear to be the only known examples of their kind. They are different in style to the Gusu Beauties and definitely do not belong to that series.

The first print is mounted farthest to the right. It shows a garden scene with two ladies seated on a terrace in front of a hexagonal open pavilion. One lady is seated on a stool and holds an open book in her left hand while holding her companion (her servant?) by the hand. This companion holds a qin 琴 (lute). Possibly this print illustrates the two literati pastimes from the series of qi qin shu hua 棋琴書畫 (chess, lute, book (writing) and painting).

Ladies in a Garden. Palacio de la Cotilla
Ladies in a Garden. Palacio de la Cotilla

Moving to the left, passing two Gusu Beauties prints, we see the second hitherto-unknown print which shows a lady seated on a couch in a garden, washing her hands in a basin supported by a tripod. Her square fan with bamboo painting lays on the couch to her right.

Lady Washing her Hands. Palacio de la Cotilla
Lady Washing her Hands. Palacio de la Cotilla

A small servant girl stands ready on the right to hand over a towel. In the foreground a half-naked boy is crawling on a banana leaf, his tambourine resting next to him.

The third of the hitherto-unknown prints is to the far left. It has been cut down on its left side in order to fit the space. It should be mentioned that all the other prints otherwise have their black borders and a small paper margin intact.

Three Ladies at a Chess Game. Palacio de la Cotilla
Three Ladies at a Chess Game. Palacio de la Cotilla

Three ladies are occupied by a game of chess on a stone table outside an open pavilion. The main figure is seated, her left leg raised in a comfortable pose. She holds the hand of a young girl cradled on her back. This young girl, probably her daughter since it would be a very intimate scene if it was her servant, turns her head and looks to her left. The impression one gets is that the daughter tries to attract her mother’s attention to something that is happening out at the left, but the mother calms the girl while she watches her adversary’s chess move. This third person is holding a chess marker just above the game board, so is thus part of the game. The print has affinities with the above Ladies in a Garden and might be by the same artist or studio.

In general, these three prints are of much lower quality in the drawing and cutting of the blocks compared with the Gusu Beauties. Proportions and perspectives are wrong, and details in the design are awkward and inferior. In style they remind me of the print which was mounted on the North Italian screen along with two Gusu Beauties, mentioned in an earlier entry.2

Much of the left side of the print has been enhanced or repainted by brush. This is most obvious in the dress, hand and face of the standing player. Although the Guadalajara authorities kindly supplied me with high-resolution photographs of the prints, it is not possible to discern from these what damage has been done to this left side. Possibly part of the original print was lost and paper inserted and painted.1

Stylistically, these three Palacio de la Cotilla prints belong to the late Kangxi, early Qianlong reigns. The colouring (all by hand and brush), the cross hatching in dresses and the facial features all point to such a dating.

I believe there is a corpus of such ‘awkward’ prints in various collections, which once assembled can form the basis for comparison and more study.

A small booklet of 64 pages has been published: Pedro José Pradillo y Esteban: El Palacio de la Cotilla y su Salón Chino, Guadalajara, 2006.3 ISBN 84-87874-43-6.

  1. I am indebted and very grateful to Patricia Sastre and Elena Ruiz of Turismo Guadalajara for the efficiency and speed with which they provided the free digital photographs. I wish all institutions were as service minded and responsive.
  2. Is it by chance that Gusu Beauties are accompanied by ‘awkward’ prints?
  3. The prints get only one page of mention (p. 47) but no provenance and erroneously claimed to be Japanese.
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Two new books on Chinese prints worth adding to your reference library. As usual, I recommend my favourite book supplier for this kind of literature:

The first book is edited by Anne Farrer and Kevin McLoughlin: Handbook of the Colour Print in China 1600-1800. ISBN: 978-90-04-47189-4. 130 illustrations in colour. €159.00 / USD $189.00

This is a ground-breaking volume of collected research into colour woodblock printed imagery produced in early modern China. The emergence and development of colour woodblock imagery occurred first in book illustrations and then in single-sheet prints, both formats treated in this book.

Leading scholars of Chinese print culture trace the emergence of a sophisticated and fully-developed colour woodblock print technology between the late Ming and mid-Qing. This volume examines the impact of colour prints on Qing visual culture through interdisciplinary studies investigating literary and artistic contexts, social and economic histories, and dating through European inventoried collections.

Richly illustrated with full-colour reproductions, this volume is an essential contribution to the future study of Chinese print and book culture.

List of contents
List of contents

I am embarrassed to admit that I have not yet received my author’s copy (maybe it is the publisher who should be embarrassed?) and therefore cannot describe the book in detail. I know, though, that the content is such that the hefty price is to be endured.

The second item is by Cordula Bischoff and Petra Kuhlmann-Hodick: La Chine – Die China-Sammlung des 18. Jahrhunderts im Dresdner Kupferstich-Kabinett. Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Sandstein Verlag, 2021. €38

This is a catalogue to an exhibition at the Dresden Royal Palace, which was planned to run 19th of November to 13th of February 2022 but was closed down, due to the Covid pandemic, four days after the opening. It was reopened on the 28th of January and will now run until the 8th of May.

Brochure for the exhibition and catalogue
Brochure for the exhibition and catalogue

The art collection of August the Strong contains, among other things, more than 1,100 Chinese drawings and watercolour paintings on paper and silk, as well as woodcuts and coloured prints. This important collection, along with 850 chinoiserie prints, is preserved in the Kupferstich-Kabinett of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. From the Chinese print angle, an inventory drawn up in 1738 firmly dates prints to the Kangxi reign, a yardstick for similar prints in other collections.

The catalogue includes seven essays by Cordula Bischoff and Anita Wang Xiaoming. All text in the catalogue is in German.

By Cordula Bischoff:

August der Starke als Sammler von Asiatika

“La Chine”. Asien-Grafik im Heucher-Inventar von 1738

Chinoiserie Musterblätter, Vorlagen für die Angewandten Künste

Rikscha, Fächer und Drache. Zur Entstehung des europäischen Chinabilds

By Anita Wang Xiaoming:

Holzschnittkunst in China

Traditionelle chinesische Motive und ihre Symbolik

Populäre Grafik. Chinas Exportschlager

This is followed by a catalogue of 43 items, fully described and amply illustrated, both in colour and black and white.

After this are eight short essays, mainly on porcelain decoration. One is print related: a discussion of Matteo Ripa’s thirty-six copperplate prints of the summer palace at Jehol. The Dresden collection has a pristine, large margin set of these rare prints, the best I have seen.

A concordance to the inventories of 1738 and 1764 and a bibliography end the book.

Personally, I would have liked to see more prints illustrated and in a larger format. Considering the early, firm dating (thanks to the inventory of 1738, the earliest we have for Chinese prints) it would be helpful to see all the prints, however simple or insignificant they might appear. I hope that the museum will illustrate all such prints digitally in the near future. This would be a valuable contribution for the study of early colour prints.

A reproach: the unique grisaille prints from the Ding Lai Xuan studio are reproduced on pp. 108-109 but cut down so that the romanised text is only partly visible but not readable. I assume a crime committed by an eager page designer!

I take the opportunity to call your attention to two interesting talks:

David Leffman first visited China in 1985 and has been back and forth ever since as a freelance travel writer and photographer. He bought his first Chinese woodblock prints in the 1990s, and has since collected hundreds more. He enjoys investigating why the prints were made in order to to gain insights into the broader aspects of traditional Chinese culture—its religion, history, literature, and folklore. In his lecture, Popular Chinese Woodblock Prints: Folk Art, Gods, and Propaganda, he gives us a background history to the art and illustrates the various print centres with prints chosen from his collection.

Wood engraver Howard Phipps tells how the details and textures in a woodblock print are achieved. Interesting how a visual subject is retold verbally. Maybe not particularly Chinese but the art of woodcutting is universal. On the blog: Front Row,, starting at 11:25.

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Japan is without a doubt the current largest source of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Chinese woodblock prints. At that time the Chinese community in Nagasaki were ardent consumers, as were many Japanese citizens, and the number of prints exported to Japan was substantial—in 1766, no fewer than 43,000 were imported to Nagasaki.1 Fortunately for us, the Japanese love of mounting images as scrolls resulted in the preservation of many of these prints, unlike in their land of origin, where they all fell victim to usage, wars, and natural disasters. The most important centre for sheet printing, Taohuawu in Suzhou, was ravaged by fires during the Taiping Rebellion of the 1860s, resulting in prints, woodblocks, and archives being totally destroyed.

In the last few years, Germany has also become an important source of Qing dynasty (1644–1911) prints. Some had been used as wallpaper in castles and mansions throughout Germany as early as the eighteenth century. We have examples of Kangxi- and Qianlong-reign prints in the castles of Lichtenwalde, Nymphenburg, Sünching, Wörlitz, Wilhelmshöhe, and Favorite, to name but a few. There is also a trove of such prints in various museums, notably in Hamburg, Berlin, Braunschweig, and Dresden. The latter collection, housed in the Kupferstich-Kabinett, was assembled under August the Strong and inventoried in 1738. This landmark event allows us to firmly date the prints in the Dresden collection as well as other prints in similar styles or with the same signatures. Indeed, as late as 1987, it was thought that there were no extant examples of Kangxi (r. 1662–1722) prints.2 The Dresden prints were hitherto little known, but a current exhibition at the Kupferstich-Kabinett present these prints to a wider public.3 Fortunately for those who cannot attend the exhibition, a catalogue has been published.

A third group consists of prints emanating from private collections, mostly without provenance, ending up under the auction hammer. The first such was in December 2018, when 19 prints (some in duplicate) datable to the Kangxi–early Qianlong reign came up for auction at the Van Ham auction house in Cologne. The provenance was only given as from a Rhenish collection, a vague attribution.

Five prints were previously known but 10 prints (and four duplicates) were published for the first time. Among them were six prints signed by Lü Tianzhi 呂天植, until now a name unknown among Gusu (Suzhou) artists. From these signatures we know that he was a son of Yuntai 雲臺 and Junhan’s 君翰 younger brother. For more details on the Lü family of printers, see my earlier blog.

Exactly a year later, at the same auction house, there appeared a second batch of prints from the same collection. This time, I questioned the auctioneer in more detail and learned that the collection had been assembled in the late 1940s–1950s by the vendor’s father. My dreams of an old, well-documented family collection stored in a traditional burg overlooking the Rhine vaporized as I realised that we will probably never learn how or when these Chinese prints found their way to Europe.

This batch included 12 Kangxi-reign prints from Suzhou. Only one had been previously known to me, all the others I was meeting for the first time.

To sum up: within a year, 20 hitherto unknown prints of the Kangxi reign had surfaced in Germany, or roughly a fifth of what was already known. Statistically this is a large increase and a welcome addition to the study material of early Qing colour prints.

At the beginning of this month, December 2021, at the Nagel auction house in Stuttgart, a further treat arrived in the form of a unique print, this time bearing a provenance. According to the catalogue, this print was from the estate of the sinologist and general linguist Georg von der Gabelentz (1840–1893) and had been part of the inventory of Schloss Poschwitz near Altenburg. This castle was, for generations, the cultural centre in the heart of Thuringia, and had been in the possession of the von der Gabelentz family since 1388. Like many castles that ended up in the eastern part of Germany after the war, Poschwitz was expropriated in 1945 and fell into decay and deterioration, which persists to this day. The contents of the castle were, or had already been, dispersed among the many members of the family.

The print was slightly miscatalogued as “a scroll or part of a wall decoration depicting a gathering during the dragon boat festival. Signed by Cao Sheng from Jinling (Nanjing). Qing Dynasty”. Nowhere did it mention that it is a Gusu print; rather, it stated that it is an ink painting on white linen canvas.

Longchuan shenghui 龍船勝會 (Dragon Boat Race). 96×52 cm. Ex. Georg von der Gabelentz Collection

Longchuan shenghui 龍船勝會 (Dragon Boat Race). 96×52 cm. Ex. Georg von der Gabelentz Collection

The fact that the print is backed onto canvas indicates that it was once used as a wall decoration, but whether in Schloss Poschwitz or elsewhere must remain unknown. Neither can it be confirmed that Georg von der Gabelentz had any personal involvement with the print. It might just have been on the wall of his inherited castle, or a piece of Chinese art that took his fancy and he acquired.

Regardless, what is more interesting, and certainly ascertainable, is what we see on the print—the motif and the text. The text consists of the signature and title, the latter also indicating the motif: Longchuan shenghui 龍船勝會 (Dragon Boat Race). The Dragon Boat race took place during the Duanyang jie 端陽節 (Duanyang Festival) on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. Originally a festival of the summer solstice, it became a popular event to commemorate the poet and politician Qu Yuan 屈原, who had drowned himself in the third century, since the racing boats symbolised the search for his body. In the upper part of the print we see three narrow dragon boats with flying banners and ceremonial parasols, accompanied by a junk and two smaller on-looking boats. On the far bank is a bridge, a pagoda, a tower, and various houses against a background of hills.

The rest of the print shows a line dancer, acrobats, jugglers, and jesters. Much attention is directed towards a human tower where a man is supporting four others in a balancing act. Musicians beating drums and tambourines are scattered around. A man standing by a wicker chest holds two monkeys by a string. Onlookers are standing or seated in two double-storeyed pavilions. The whole scene is that of entertainments customary during the Duanyang Festival.

The foreground of the print shows a balustrade and wall lining a pond in which lotus are growing. Sky and water are striated to show nuances, and there is frequent crosshatching to evoke shade and shadows, all inspired by Western copperplate engraving. In general, this is a typical Gusu print of the 1740s, confirmed by its large size, 96×52 cm.

To my knowledge, there are no other examples of this print. However, we have its right-hand companion in a print fitted as a wall decoration between two windows at Schloss Wörlitz. This print is also unique and titled Baxi tu 把戲圖 (Jugglers and Acrobats). It is hand-coloured, whereas the von der Gabelentz print is not. The Wörlitz print was damaged at some point and badly restored. The two first lines of text have partly been pasted upside down, and the balustrade and part of the pond wall has been amateurishly redrawn.

Baxi tu 把戲圖 (Jugglers and Acrobats). Schloss Wörlitz

Baxi tu 把戲圖 (Jugglers and Acrobats). Schloss Wörlitz

We see more performers of circus and balancing acts, including a juggler balancing a large urn with his feet, an acrobatic rider, and a tower of tables on which boys are climbing and dancing. More onlookers are seated in a two-storeyed house and an open pavilion.

The two prints next to each other, von der Gabelentz to the left, Schloss Wörlitz to the right

The two prints next to each other, von der Gabelentz to the left, Schloss Wörlitz to the right

Both prints are signed by Cao Sheng 曹陞 from Jinling 金陵, present-day Nanjing. In the von der Gabelentz print he ends his signature with xie 寫 (drawn) whereas the Wörlitz example has xieti 寫題 (drawn and colophon). Cao Sheng was a well-known printmaker of the Qianlong reign. We know of six prints signed by him.

Next to the Baxi tu at Schloss Wörlitz is pasted another print by Cao Sheng. The title, Er Sun Fu Lu – Ba Man Jin Bao 兒孫福祿 八蛮進寶 (Fortune and Prosperity Down the Generations – The Eight Barbarians Bring Tribute), is on the left of the image followed by the signature Jinling Cao Sheng xie 金陵曹陞寫 (Drawn by Cao Sheng from Jinling [Nanjing]). Schloss Wörlitz was constructed between 1769 and 1773, so we can firmly date the wallpapers to before 1773.

Wall decorations. Schloss Wörlitz

Wall decorations. Schloss Wörlitz

Another print by Cao Sheng is Jinling shengjing tu 金陵勝景圖 (Scenic Views of Jinling). It has the signature Jinling Cao Sheng ti 金陵曹陞題 (Colophon by Cao Sheng of Jinling). That print was formerly in the Imanaka Hiroshi 今中宏 collection, present location unknown.

Jinling shengjing tu 金陵勝景圖 (Scenic Views of Jinling). Ex Imanaka Hiroshi 今中宏 collection

Jinling shengjing tu 金陵勝景圖 (Scenic Views of Jinling). Ex Imanaka Hiroshi 今中宏 collection

The fifth print is in my collection. It is titled Ershiba Xiu Nao Kunyang 二十八宿鬧昆陽 (Twenty-Eight Constellations Battle at Kunyang). It measures 102.5×54.2 cm and is signed the usual Jinling Cao Sheng xie 金陵曹陞寫 (Drawn by Cao Sheng from Jinling [Nanjing]).

Ershiba Xiu Nao Kunyang 二十八宿鬧昆陽 (Twenty-Eight Constellations Battle at Kunyang). Author's Collection

Ershiba Xiu Nao Kunyang 二十八宿鬧昆陽 (Twenty-Eight Constellations Battle at Kunyang). Author’s Collection

The sixth and final print, Lintong dou bao 臨潼鬪寶 (Competing for Wealth in Lintong), in a private collection, London, carries the same signature of Jinling Cao Sheng xie 金陵曹陞寫. On the bottom right margin of that print is also the signature Gusu Cao Huazhang fake 姑蘇曹華章發客 (Published by Cao Huazhang in Suzhou) proving that although Cao Sheng was from Nanjing, his prints were produced in Suzhou. Whether Huazhang was a relative of Sheng, or another name for him, is not known.

Lintong dou bao 臨潼鬪寶 (Competing for Wealth in Lintong). Private Collection, London

Lintong dou bao 臨潼鬪寶 (Competing for Wealth in Lintong). Private Collection, London

It is incontestable that the last three years have seen an increased interest in Chinese woodblock prints, especially those of the Gusu type—that short-lived production span between 1730 and 1750. Prices of these prints have sky-rocketed (the above von der Gabelentz print sold for over €67,000) and it is perhaps as a result of this that prints are beginning to emerge from hiding. Long may they keep coming!


1: Nagazumi Yōko 永積洋子, Tōsen yushutsunyūhin sūryō ichiran, 1637–1833-nen: fukugen tōsen kamotsu aratamechō, kihan nimotsu kaiwatashichō 唐船輸出入品数量一覧 1637–1833年: 復元唐船貨物改帳,帰帆荷物買渡帳 (Statistical Lists of Import–Export Goods by Chinese Ships for the Years 1637–1833). Tokyo, 创文社 Sobunsha, 1987. 150.

2: Council for Cultural Planning and Development, Executive Yuan 行政院文化建設委員會策劃: Suzhou Chuantong Banhua Taiwan Shoucang Zhan 蘇州傳統版畫台灣收藏展 – Collector’s Show of Traditional Soochow Woodblock Prints in Taiwan, R.O.C. Taibei, Council for Cultural Planning and Development, 1987. 295

3: Sadly, the exhibition was temporarily closed on the 21st of November, after only three days, due to Covid 19 regulations. It is scheduled to run until February 13th, 2022.

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WENFANGTU 文房圖 Prints of Scholarly and Other Objects

A pair of hand-coloured woodblock prints showing sections of deep bookcases or cabinets appeared in a 2020 Bukowski auction in Stockholm.1 I had not paid much attention to this genre of prints before I came across a group of them when visiting the Veltrusy Mansion (hereafter VM) in the Czech Republic. There used to be a room in this mansion wallpapered with such prints, but which is presently dismantled for renovation and restoration. Old photographs of the room show the arrangement of the wallpaper—but more about this later.

The Stockholm auction prints fired my curiosity, leading to quick cursory research that unveiled a multifaceted state of affairs, more complicated and intricate than first expected. It spans various geographical localities such as the UK, the Czech Republic, France, and Sweden. I will try below to list the various prints as well as their provenance, present whereabouts and interrelationships.

Each print, ca. 110×50 cm, shows two superimposed sections of a deep bookshelf or cabinet separated by a pair of drawer fronts. Each three-dimensional section contains a variety of ceramics, musical instruments, books and scrolls, fruits and flowers, and other cherished objects. The upper section shows all five sides of the cabinet, as if seen straight from the front, whereas the bottom section only shows four sides—the top or ceiling being hidden by the drawers. The sections are slightly inclined towards either the right or the left, depending on which side is shaded. The shaded side is always smaller than the non-shaded, producing a linear perspective of sorts. The battens in the ceiling of the shelf are also angled to either left or right, further enhancing its three-dimensional appearance. Displayed objects are slightly inclined towards the viewer.

In the search for a term or name for this genre of prints, I have had suggestions of bogutu 博古圖 (pictures of antiques); qinggong bogutu 清供博古圖 (pictures of ceremonial objects and numerous antiques); cejiatu 冊架圖 (pictures of bookshelves); cejuli 冊巨里 (books and things); duobao gejing 多寶格景 (shelves bearing treasures); and wenfangtu 文房圖 (scholar’s studio objects). Although all these terms have their merits and could well be suitable, the objects displayed on the shelves are not all antiques and not necessarily precious, so I discarded bogutu and duobao gejing. Cejiatu and cejuli are quite to the point and are the Chinese version of the later Korean names for such motifs, ch’aekka-do or ch’aekkŏri painting. However, personally, I favour wenfangtu, with all its connotations of the traditional Chinese scholar and his studio filled with books and various objects, precious or not. Wenfang sibao 文房四寶 (Four Treasures of the Scholar’s Studio) is the term used to refer to the ink brush, ink-stick, paper and ink-slab which were the cornerstones of a literati life. Being, I believe, the first person to select a term for these prints, I choose wenfangtu.

Bukowski 2020, A-B. 94×48.5 cm.
Bukowski 2020, C-D. 91×46 cm.

The two Bukowski prints (as well as all other known prints in this genre, judging from photographs) are printed on one single sheet of paper.2 Each section of the bookcase is three-dimensional and shows the sides, the back, and the base in different colour tones. The top sections also show the ceiling of the shelf (trimmed away in all the Bukowski prints). The ceiling and one of the sides are painted black, whereas the base and two adjoining sides have a hand-painted woodgrain pattern, which is also visible on the dividing drawer fronts. This trompe l’oeil effect is a Western innovation brought by the Jesuits who arrived in China in the seventeenth century. The linear perspective, as well as the shading (blackening) of one side and the ceiling, are also the fruit of Western influence. Each drawer has a printed rosette handle with a ring. The bookshelves are very plain, in strong contrast to those elaborately decorated bookshelves seen in court paintings, such as the Yongzheng reign set of twelve paintings of beauties in palace interiors (formerly mistakenly titled Yongzheng Shier Fei 雍正十二妃 Twelve Concubines of the Yongzheng Emperor) by an anonymous court artist. Some of these paintings are in the Palace Museum in Beijing.3

The above characteristics are, I believe, common for all known wenfangtu prints. The available illustrations and reproductions are not always clear or detailed, and it is impossible, for example, to distinguish joins in the paper sheet, if such exist. Therefore, assumptions and conclusions made here might have to be revised in the future.

Descriptions of Wenfangtu

I have so far discovered ten such prints in various institutions. Each of these prints has two sections of superimposed shelves, to which I have allocated the letters A to T, and whose contents are listed below.

The two Bukowski prints, from now on referred to as A-B and C-D, have been trimmed on all four sides. All colours are hand-painted, with the painting in fairly fresh condition. The thin paper was originally backed with fine linen canvas to serve as wallpaper. Recently (in the last 40-50 years), the prints were mounted on cardboard and framed. The edges of the Chinese paper were hidden under beige paint on the ‘light’ side and and dark brown paint on the ‘shaded’ side. Outside of this painted frame can be seen a yellow margin, partly damaged during the removal from the wall, consisting of canvas, Western paper and oily paint.

The upper section (A, 94×48.5 cm) of the first print shows two albums on which stand an open box. Within the box is displayed a cracked-ice patterned vase on a small wood stand. Ping 瓶 (vase) is a homophone with ping 平 (peace), a recurrent symbolism in the prints. Tiered baskets containing chess pieces are also stacked on the albums. Two brocade-covered rolls of painting or calligraphy lean towards the back. In front of the scrolls are three volumes—one is open to present the text. The spine has the characters Xixiang Ji 西廂記 (Romance of the Western Chamber). The text is legible. It is a fragment from Act 1 (of Play 1) of Xixiangji in the Jin Shengtan (金聖歎, 1610?–1661) edition. The fragment describes the lovestruck Student Zhang after he first set eyes on Yingying. Jin divides the text in sections (jie 节), and the text here presents sections 13 and 14 (the aria 赚煞). The text has been copied quite well, but there are mistakes. For instance, in section 14, Jin writes: 至此遂聲言之也 but the print has: 至比遂聲言之也.4 It is not uncommon to find orthographic errors in print texts of the eighteenth century.

The presence here of the Xixiangji volume (as well as the tea canisters and the calendar in print J below) shows that actual, everyday items were reproduced in wenfangtu prints, not only generic objects.

In the bottom compartment (B, 91×46 cm) one sees a lidded teacup decorated with a writhing blue dragon pattern. In front of it is a violet basin or ink-slab. On a green stand with oval openings sits a bowl containing five Buddha’s Hand citrus fruits, foshou 佛手, a homophone of fushou 福壽 (good fortune and longevity). A water dropper and a vase with a flowering peach branch complete the objects displayed, mostly placed in the foreground.

The second Bukowski print displays in its upper section (C) a single volume placed on a hantao 函套 of books. Behind is a vase with roses. Supported on a stand with three balls is a blue bowl with four pomegranates, two of them split open to show their seeds, a symbol of many offspring.

The bottom part (D) shows a brushpot containing four brushes and a scroll. The scroll has a fine decoration of white wavy lines applied in such a manner as to create relief. The same has been done with the seeds of the pomegranates, the rim of the blue dish, and the white dots on the brocade cover of the books in C.5 There are also musical instruments such as small cymbals, a dizi 笛子 (flute) with a jade tassel and a four-stringed pipa 琵琶 (lute).

Bukowski 2020 D, detail of relief paint.

It is interesting to note that in this print one of the drawers has been pulled out a little to accentuate the trompe l’oeil effect. The left side and inside of the drawer have been painted black. Another interesting detail is visible in the middle, just above the drawers—breaks in the horizontal printed lines. These breaks or cracks can be followed vertically throughout the print, both on its upper and lower sections.

Comparison of breaks in C and D.

This tells us that two blocks of wood were joined together. Furthermore, the fact that the width of the break is narrow in the upper part but wider in the lower part indicates that there were separate blocks for them. In other words, four pieces of wood were joined to form the printing block. It was common practice to join several blocks of wood together with nails and dovetails, and then cut the image. With usage, the blocks came slightly apart and the joins became visible as breaks in the print. The horizontal breaks are not visible here due to overpainting. Moreover, the middle falls just above the drawers, where there are no printed black lines. In the A-B print, one can also see a vertical crack running from top to bottom, tapering towards the bottom. No horizontal break can be detected, again due to later overpainting.

In the catalogue entry for the two Bukowski 2020 prints is a reference to an earlier Bukowski sale in 2016 where three such prints were auctioned.67 Lot 129 in this 2016 sale is another example of C-D, but with brighter colour, although the pulled-out drawer remains unpainted and has a less three-dimensional appearance. A comparison between the two prints (as best as can be done from the subpar reproductions) shows them to have been printed from the same woodblock.

Bukowski 2016, C-D. 91×47 cm.

Looking at Lot 130 in the Bukowski 2016 sale one encounters two new sections of bookshelf, E-F.

Bukowski 2016, E-F. 91×47 cm.

In E, from left to right, are: two tea canisters of base metal, one of them in a (veneered?) basketweave pattern; a tea set comprising four cups and a teapot, probably Yixing 宜興pottery with appliqué in a lighter coloured clay, on a green tray; a gnarled branch placed diagonally across the image; and a patterned vase with roses.

In F are placed: a Yixing teapot on top of its brazier;8 a typical large circular Cantonese palm fan over which a pipe is angled; two red bags hanging from the drawer handle; and finally a small bowl of grapes.

Bukowski 2016, G-H. 91×47 cm.

Lot 131 in the Bukowski 2016 sale is the print G-H.

The upper section G presents four custard apples in a plate resting on a stand with three balls, very similar to the stand in A; a rhomboid celadon vase (similar to vase in N below), with bagua 八卦 (eight trigrams) symbols on it, holds a branch of blossoming camellia; a blue porcelain box with open lid display its content of beads or pearls; and an abacus.

Bottom section H contains a brushpot in which is a folding fan, three brushes, a sheet of paper; a chicken-feather duster glued to a rattan stick; a handkerchief enveloping seals; a small scales in its wooden holder; two hantao with volumes of books; and, on top of the books, a pair of eyeglasses in their case.

By luck, I learned that the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm (NM) has examples of wenfangtu. The Museum’s holdings expand the print motifs with I to P, as follows:

Nordiska Museet, I-J.

In I, which in this case is damaged, are a vase with three flowers; a half-opened folding fan; fourteen volumes of a book loosely stacked; and a checked towel hanging down from a bronze mirror over the books and the drawer below.

Section J has a rectangular black box with a green shou 壽 (long life) symbol; a Yixing teapot; two blue dragon-decorated cups, one with a lid; two tea canisters of woven basketry (similar to the canister in E); a goose or swan feather; and a book suspended from the handle of a semi-opened drawer. An amusing detail on this drawer are the two cockroaches—one creeping up the drawer front, the other peeping up over the edge. A very Chinese humourist touch.

Nordiska Museet, J detail.

The sections K-L form an entire, untrimmed print. For the first time one sees here the fifth part of the bookshelf—the ceiling. This is, as in most prints, black and divided into three sections by what looks like wooden battens. One also sees here for the first time the frame of the bookcase, hand-painted with the woodgrain clearly depicted.

Nordiska Museet, K-L.

Section K holds three books; an aubergine-coloured vase with two roses; a partially opened folding fan; and a blue dish with three large red fruits (melons?) on a wooden stand with open circles.

The lower section L displays a green dish with a narcissus and a miniature Taihu rock; small scales in its wooden holder; a pair of eyeglasses in a wooden case; and, leaning in the back right corner, a fan made of goose feathers.

Nordiska Museet, M-N.

Section M has only three objects: a blue gu-shaped vase with a branch of blossoming plum; a set of dominos in their box; and a fan with an expensive spotted-bamboo handle, xiangfeizhu 湘妃竹.

Below, in section N, are four objects: a three-stringed sanxian 三弦 (lute) placed diagonally; a green bottle, possibly containing plum wine and plums; a blue dish with lychees and fruits from scarlet sterculia on a wooden stand; and finally a square elongated vase decorated with the bagua, same as in G. This green vase stands in a wooden box with a handle, a similar carrying box to A.

Nordiska Museet, O-P.

In O are three albums on which is placed a bundle of (presumably) books in a carrying cloth baofu 包袱 (Jap. furoshiki 風呂敷) is placed. Next to it is a translucent fishbowl with five fish, three red and two black. The fishbowl rests on an elaborate three-legged stand which the artist did not succeed in reproducing with correct perspective.

Section P has first a brushpot with four spotted-bamboo brushes and a folding fan. Within is also a sheet of red paper and a chicken-feather duster (similar to H above). The brushpot and its contents are reminiscent of that in H. A blue dish contains half a watermelon, plus some chunks. A lotus root and a few slices are also in the dish as are four water caltrops (ling 菱). The water caltrop fruit resembles a bat, and caltrop are thus a rebus for bats, which signify auspicious blessings.

Nordiska Museet, Q-R.

Section Q shows a tall green vase with cymbidium. Next to the vase is a dish on a wooden stand. In the dish are three different kinds of flower. To the right is a cracked-ice patterned bowl with three Buddha’s Hand citrus fruits.

Section R has, to the left, a round box with white seals and a small blue vessel. Behind these is a hantao of books. Diagonally placed is an erhu 二胡 (two-stringed lute) behind which is its bow, together with the beater for the round tambourine standing behind.

Thus far, I have relied on prints in Swedish collections. To be able to complete the inventory of the wenfangtu I had to go to the Veltrusy Mansion (VM) in the Czech Republic, where two separate sections (probably from a single print) are located.

Veltrusy Mansion, S

Section S is only known as a single section; no complete two-section print is known. Posed diagonally is a four-stringed instrument, as in D but with different shape. Behind this lute is a blue vase with two peonies. Two tea canisters complete the image. In contrast to canisters shown in other prints, these bear text: Gongfu xicha 工夫細茶 and Wuyi cha 武夷茶. Both are well-known tea brands then as now.9

Veltrusy Mansion, T.

The lower section T could possibly be the bottom part of S considering the similarity of woodgrain on the back, shelf and side. On a green tray is an Yixing teapot, a lidded teacup decorated with blue dragons and three smaller wine or teacups, also decorated in blue. Behind this is a wooden stand on which rests a blue dish with various flowers—magnolia, peony, rose, vinca—and foliage. Another Yixing pot on top of its brazier finishes the inventory. A similar brazier and teapot can be found in section F.

This completes my description of known prints.10

Provenance of Known Wenfangtu


Bukowski Prints

In the catalogue entry to Bukowski 2016 is stated that the three prints offered at that auction were “originally from a set of 12 paintings [sic!] discovered at a wing to Skenäs Manor, Vingåker”. Looking at Wikipedia, candidates for who might originally have acquired these prints for Skenäs Manor would include Count Johan Gyllenborg (1682–1752), but, perhaps more likely, his son Count Jacob Johan Gyllenborg (1721–1788)—especially as the latter would presumably have inherited Skenäs Manor on his father’s death in 1752, when the fashion for this kind of prints in Europe was really taking off. It was the exact time when similar wenfangtu prints were being used at Milton Hall (MH) in England. Jacob’s uncle, Fredrik Gyllenborg (1698–1759), was a participant in and shareholder of the Swedish East India Company (SEIC) at this time, and it is possible that the prints came to Skenäs Manor thanks to this relation.

Skenäs Manor passed through many hands. In the late 1980s it was bought by an acquaintance of mine, who is still the owner. I called him recently to enquire about these prints, and he confirmed that there were none in the manor when he bought it.

From available catalogue illustrations it is impossible to ascertain whether the prints in the Bukowski 2016 sale are mounted similarly to the two in the 2020 sale, which are mounted on plywood board and in a black frame. Around the prints are traces of yellow and beige paper/paint, evidence of their service as wallpapers (cf below under Göteborgs Stadsmuseum).

Nordiska Museet

The eight prints described above were acquired from Stina Swanbergs Antiqvitetshandel (antique shop) in 1901. All in all, there were 39 pieces acquired in this purchase, so there are probably more prints to be discovered. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Museum is presently closed and it is not possible to either view the prints or to take photographs. The prints are unmounted and have never been used as wallpaper. Judging by the few photographs of the prints, the paper is thin and brittle, also confirmed in the inventory description, and they have suffered from rough handling resulting in tears and parts missing.11 Since these prints have never been used as wallpaper, their colours are very fresh and unaffected by light or dust.

Göteborgs Stadsmuseum

Göteborgs Stadsmuseum, M-N.

The museum has a complete print (M-N) and a fragmentary print (H).12 The first print (M-N) was bought at a Gothenburg auction in 1981. It has been trimmed (the ceiling is missing) and has the same yellow/beige secondary margins as the Bukowski 2020 prints. Possibly, they were all part of the same group, perhaps from the purported twelve ‘paintings’ from Skenäs Manor, considering that they have served as wallpaper at some point.

Göteborg Stadsmuseum, H.

The fragment of section H entered the Gothenburg Municipal Museum in 1938 together with other wallpaper fragments from Marieholms landeri.13 Marieholms landeri came into the possession of Jacob Habicht in 1763 through marriage.14 Jacob Habicht was captain aboard two SEIC ships, Prins Carl, 1765, and Riksens Ständer, 1768. Jacob’s brother, Friedrich Habicht, was a supercargo in the SEIC and made journeys to China in 1752, 1759, and 1766, and was from 1768 stationed as supercargo at the factory in Canton. Either of them could have imported the prints, perhaps more likely Friedrich.

When the main building of the Marieholms landeri was demolished in 1938, “three coats of different Chinese wallpaper were found, one glued upon the other”.15 A newspaper article reported that the wenfangtu print was on top of a figurative wallpaper, which in turn was on top of a bird-and-flower wallpaper. Fragments of these other two Chinese wallpapers are in the Göteborgs Stadsmuseum.16 Hopefully, when better photographs are available of these fragments, a dating of them will be possible which would help us date the wenfangtu prints.

I have been told that there are similar prints at two other manors, Forsmark Bruk and at Linné’s Hammarby, but I have not yet been able to verify this.


Veltrusy Mansion

There is only one location with wenfangtu prints in the Czech Republic: Veltrusy Mansion (VM). However, VM is very rich in its holding of wenfangtu. In the Count’s Study, entered through either a lower or a higher door at each end of the room, complete prints as well as separated sections were pasted in various arrangements, all placed within fancy painted rococo frames. The room is presently dismantled and the prints have been taken for restoration. Through various photographs, I have been able to reconstruct the room (I think!). The most common arrangement (there are four of them) is a 3 by 3 section crowned by 2 sections. The bottom two rows were formed of 3 complete prints, the third row and the top two images were all cutout sections. If I am correct, there are 9 arrangements as follows, starting from the right side of the window wall: 

Far left No. 9 (on the window wall), above door No. 1, followed by Nos. 2 & 3.
  • 1. over the lower door: C-D; M-N
From left: Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 (partly).
  • 2. to the right of the lower door and with part of the arrangement in an angled corner housing a ‘hidden’ door: I-J; K-L; O-P forming the lower part; above them are the sections B, T and D. On top are A and S.
  • 3. to the left on the wall facing the windows: I-J; Q-R; O-P. Above are three sections: L, F and H. The whole crowned by sections G and E. The identical prints are repeated in 5 but not in the same order.
  • 4. consists of only one print: G-H.
Nos. 4, 5 and 6.
  • 5. similar arrangement as Nos. 2 and 3 above: I-J; Q-R, O-P. Above are the three sections: H, F and L, crowned by E and G.
No. 6.
  • 6. also with three prints at the bottom and five sections above: I-J; G and L (this must be two sections put together!); O-P. Above are the three sections F, R and H, and on top E and Q.
No. 7.
  • 7. the door to the right of 6 is higher than the door between 1 and 2, and there is no space above it to fit a print. The only wall now left is the window wall and here I can only speculate (with the help of two inadequate old photographs) that it consisted of a single panel of prints followed by a window. Then came an arrangement of two prints side by side (8) followed by a window and finally 9, being a similar one-print panel as 7.

    In 7 is placed a complete print at the bottom, A-B, with two sections above, Q and N.
No. 8.
  • 8. the bottom feature A-B and M-N. Above them is T and R, crowned by K.
  • 9. this wall panel, comprised of four sections (similar to 7), is not apparent from available photographs. The only print identified with certainty is the bottom one, S-T. The two prints above remain to be identified.


Milton Hall

The prints in Milton Hall (MH) are described by Emile de Bruijn in his Chinese Wallpaper in Britain and Ireland, p. 46 ff. Individual cutout parts of wenfangtu have been collaged in various combinations with the addition of painted floral motifs or motifs from other prints. The eyeglasses from L, the book bundle from O as well as the feather and tea canisters from I-J are easily recognisable. From I-J one can also see the hanging book, now detached and turned around, and the hanging cloth. This cloth has a slightly different shape from the print in NM and VM. It is readily apparent that the MH prints are all from different woodblocks to those used in prints in any other location. From photographs of the MH walls, it is possible to discern that the trompe l’oeil woodgrain pattern is present, but only on the bottom of the bookshelf, not on the back or sides. Apart from objects cut out from the A-T prints, there are also objects not previously encountered, indicating that there must have been more prints and motifs among the wenfangtu. These new objects include various dishes and bowls on stands, vases, a bronze ding tripod, wooden trays and, most surprisingly, a pair of shoes. The ceilings of the bookshelf sections on which the cutout objects were pasted are, as in the original prints, divided into three fields, but here as vaulted ceilings with tassels hanging from the lower ends. I am inclined to think that the whole bookshelf section is a painted addition by the paper-hangers. If I am surprised by the presence of such a prosaic object as a pair of shoes, I am also surprised by the omission of such exotic objects as the fishbowl in O. The bundle of books from this same print is present, so we know the entire print must have been available for use. Maybe the odd twisted perspective of the stand disqualified the fishbowl. The abacus, the small scales, and the bowl of cherimoyas in G-H ought also to have been objects of interest to the Western eyes of the paper-hangers, but perhaps this print was not available. 

Dating and Origin of Known Wenfangtu

The ‘hanging’ book with a folded corner from print J, as found in four versions in MH and one in VM, is our major aid, at present, to dating the prints. In MH, the books are no longer hanging since they have been scissored out and pasted up in various positions. However, on two of the books the string in the corner is still visible (the ones dated Qianlong (QL) 10 and QL 15).

Veltrusy Mansion, I-J. Dated Qianlong 16 (1751).

The book in question is an official calendar. Such calendars were published annually by the central government, and were obviously ephemeral. The title reads Daqing Qianlong Shi * Nian Shixianshu 大清乾隆十*年時憲書. Incidentally, there are two other Suzhou prints where this exact same calendar(!) is suspended from a hook on the wall (although no string is visible). In both prints the lower part of the front cover is folded up. The date of those prints is QL 10 (1745). Apparently, this particular calendar was an oft-utilised object in prints.17 

Still-life with fan, flute, calendar and bronze vessel. 1745. 107×53 cm. Private Collection, London.
Still-life with vase, calendar and squirrel. 1745. 92.5×55.5 cm. Umi-Mori Art Museum.

The four prints at MH showing this particular calendar are dated QL 10 (1745; 2 of them), QL 13 (1748) and QL 15 (1750) respectively. One of the four prints at VM is dated QL 16 (1751).18 Print I-J is certainly the most numerous, known in 9 examples (four at MH, four at VM and one in NM).

The Chinese Room at MH was created in the early 1750s, which is supported by the datings on the prints. The room at VM was installed in either 1754 for a visit by Francis I and his powerful wife, Maria Theresa, or in 1766 following the 1764 flooding of the Vltava River, a tributary of the Elbe not far away. The date 1754 fits well with the dated print of QL 16 (1751).

It is interesting to see that there is a gap after the printed character ten (in QL 10) which gave the opportunity for the publisher to write in by hand the number for the current year, thereby allowing use of the woodblock for ten years. The wu 五 five in QL 15 (1750) is a very obvious addition by hand.

Milton Hall, detail of QL 15 dating.

Whether or not this was a common thing for the publisher of the calendar to do is not known to me. The print publisher could certainly keep his print ‘current’ for ten consecutive years without having to cut a new woodblock. I hope to be able to visit MH and verify whether the handwritten wu character is really handwritten onto the print or rather printed to imitate hand-writing. Regardless, it is an amusing insight into the economical world of the publisher.

As concerns the prints in Sweden, the ones at the Nordiska Museet were bought from an antique shop in 1901 and no provenance is documented. Likewise for the print in the Göteborgs Stadsmuseum (M-N) which was also bought from an auction in 1981 (although indications are that it is part of the Skenäs series). However, the fragment of H in this museum can be dated to between 1752 and 1768 if it was either of the Habicht brothers who brought the prints to Gothenburg.

If we are right to assume that it was Count Jacob Johan Gyllenborg (1721–1788) who acquired the prints at Skenäs Manor, they would be dated between 1752 (when he inherited Skenäs) and 1759 (when his uncle, the presumed middle-man, died). Alternatively, the latest date would be 1788, when Count Gyllenborg died.

Therefore, the prints in Sweden, which are all from the same woodblocks but different from those at MH or VM, are later in date than those other prints. Considering the uniformity in colouring and painting of the woodgrain, the Swedish prints were probably all from the same edition and batch and imported at the same time, possibly in the late 1750s or early 1760s. The small but notable decline in the cutting of the woodblocks and in the detail (for example, not printing the title and other text on the cover of the book in print J) is consistent with being a later edition.

An observation to be made in this context is the fact that the calendar cover being illustrated and dated points to the print being aimed primarily at a local audience, and not necessarily at the export market. The print market in China at this time was flourishing and prosperous—at its zenith—and the publishers of prints were too busy satisfying the local market, as well as Chinese customers in Japan, to pay much attention to the relatively limited Western market.

The wenfangtu at MH and VM are mingled with other prints that have traditionally been attributed to Suzhou printshops. The depiction of flowers and plants in the wenfangtu are similar in style to those in wallpaper prints associated with Suzhou. I think, therefore, there are grounds to state that the wenfangtu prints are products from this city. However, Terese Bartholomew has pointed out to me that the scarlet sterculia fruit (as in N above) is from a tree that grows in southern China. The open seedpod is a common motif in eighteenth-century Canton enamel and Rose Canton porcelains for export. Terese has never seen the seedpods illustrated in prints. Furthermore the palm fan in F and the cockroaches in J are very Cantonese. Therefore, there are also arguments for the prints originating from Canton. Obviously, the final word on the origin of the wenfangtu remains to be pronounced.

Woodblocks and Printing of the Wenfangtu

All the wenfangtu prints in Sweden are printed from the same woodblocks. A comparison of my C print and that of NM shows the same breaks in the black lines as well as the cracks in the blocks, although the hand-colouring makes the images look different. 

Bukowski 2020, detail of C.
Nordiska Museet, detail of C.

Although much of the illustrative material to hand is not too distinct or clear in details, it is obvious that the prints at MH are from different woodblocks to those from VM, which in turn are different from those in Sweden. In other words, there were at least three editions of the wenfangtu prints.

For comparison, I use the box and book in section J, of which there are examples from MH, VM and NM. The MH example, compared with the VM example, has different spacing of the smaller frame in relation to the folded corner. The exposed corner in the MH example displays more text. This is already a strong indication that they are from different woodblocks. The shou 壽 character on the box is also different in the two prints. If this symbol in VM is compared with the NM example, it proves that they again are from different woodblocks, something which is easily recognisable in the different patterns of the basketweave in the tea canisters, as well as different text on the labels. Furthermore, the cover of the book in NM lacks any writing or text, having been left blank. Additional differences can be seen in the hanging cloth, the stacked books, and the insects in/on the drawer.

Such differences in woodblocks are not unusual. Popular prints saw many editions, issued by the original printshop but also copied by the competition. Over time, a block could be damaged, or lost, and a new block cut, imitating the old one. There were excellent designers and block-cutters working in Suzhou at this time, and to faithfully copy a print was not problematic.

Generally, one would expect a certain time lapse before the cutting of new blocks, especially if done by the same printshop. If one’s print was a best-seller, one could be certain that an opportunistic colleague would jump on the bandwagon and copy the print, in which case two versions would be contemporary. This is clearly seen in print J from wall arrangement 2 at VM and print J on wall arrangement 4. The most obvious differences are that in one print the book hangs further down in one print, the feather protrudes onto the side wall, the red label on the rear tea canister is missing, and in the contours of the hanging textile. I assume that all the prints at VM must have arrived at the same time, in one batch from one printshop. I have never encountered an instance where a printshop has two woodblocks of the same motif used concurrently. One explanation would be that the original woodblock was damaged and a new one cut and printed from, although there was still stock of prints from the original block. Alternatively, the printshop might have a surplus of prints from ‘previous’ year (think calendar print) which was offloaded on the foreign buyer who was not bothered with best-before dates. Whoever bought the prints now in VM was given prints from both blocks. If any of my readers has a better explanation, I would be most keen to hear it.

Inspiration and Spread of Wenfangtu

The fascination for three-dimensional and trompe l’oeil images, vanishing-point perspective and other European influences on woodblock prints in 1730s Suzhou probably provided the inspiration for the wenfangtu. Already in the Portrait of Kangxi Reading, ca. 1700–1705, attributed to Giovanni Gherardini or his studio, one sees books in hantao stacked in bookcases that recede with a hint of perspective.19 

The Kangxi Emperor Reading. 138×106.5 cm. Palace Museum, Beijing.

Other possible precursors to wenfangtu are to be found in Buddhist temples. Five trompe l’oeil panels (of twenty-five) are illustrated on page 96 of Kay E. Black, Ch’aekkŏri Painting – A Korean Jigsaw Puzzle, where one recognises the calendar, tea canisters in basketweave, scrolls, flowers in vase, dust whisk etc. Black also illustrates (on p. 191) four panels from the Huayansi Temple 華嚴寺 in Datong, Shanxi province. These panels illustrate smoking incense burners, vases with incense paraphernalia, books and various vessels. In the same book are also illustrated (pp. 94 & 95) details from trompe l’oeil paintings in a private New York collection, where the feather, the plate with small Taihu rock and narcissus, the checked cloth, the bowls with pomegranates and Buddha’s Hand citrus fruits, and so on, are by now familiar. However, musical instruments are missing in all these images. There is no indication as to the date of these painted images.

There was in China a tradition of illustrating bronze or ceramics vessels along with implements from the scholar’s table. This tradition started with the Song dynasty Xuanhe Bogutu 宣和博古圖 (Illustrations of Antiquities in the Xuanhe Reign), a catalogue of over 800 objects from the imperial collection. Follow-ups include several revised Ming editions of the Bogutu as well as new compilations of similar catalogues of imperial collections. There are also examples of paintings from the Ming and Qing illustrating treasured objects. Book illustrations became popular in the seventeenth century and a number of publications were issued containing images of vases with flowers, decorative objects, ink-cakes, ink-stones and brushpots, and, of course, reproductions of paintings by former masters. The Ding family, spearheaded by Ding Liangxian 丁亮先 (fl. 1730–40s), issued a series of four prints displaying bronze and ceramic vases, incense burners, brushpots with brushes, folding fans, scrolls, and coral branches.20 These prints are in the wenfangtu spirit and could well have been the precursors and the inspiration for the wenfangtu prints under discussion.

The Ding prints and the wenfangtu could also be the inspiration for the later genre of bapotu 八破圖 which flourished in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although none of the objects in the prints are ‘broken’.21 However, the squirrel in the Still-life from 1745 illustrated above has in his mouth a paper fragment chewed out from a sheet calendar. This fragment certainly classifies as a bapo.

The genre of wenfangtu was exported to Korea at the end of the eighteenth century where it became very popular as an art form, but only as paintings. No Korean woodblock prints of wenfangtu are known. The following two images are examples of early Korean paintings in which we can recognise many elements, for example the eyeglasses, the cut-open watermelon, the fan made of feathers, etc. 

Chaekegori. Korean six-panel screen. Ink and colour on paper. 152×399 cm. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul.

It is obvious that the Chinese wenfangtu prints formed a popular genre of prints that saw many editions and versions. The prints were exported in the middle of the eighteenth century to Europe and then dispersed as far and wide as the Czech Republic, England, and Sweden. Wenfangtu prints must have circulated in France as well, as will be discussed in a forthcoming article by Kee Il Choi, Jr. I believe the last word is not yet said regarding wenfangtu prints.



2 As shall be seen, many of the other prints were later divided into two before being wallpapered.

3 James Cahill, Pictures for Use and Pleasure – Vernacular Painting in High Qing China. (Berkeley University of California Press, 2010), p. 48.

4 I am indebted to Wilt Idema for these comments on Xixiangji.

5 No relief painting is present in the Bukowski 2020 A-B print or in any other prints in Sweden.

6 Giving the wrong sale reference, the correct sale is 593.

7, and All are catalogued as paintings.

8 Actually a water pot since tea is not boiled!

9 In one print in the Veltrusy Mansion the text on the front canister reads Yuzi yan 御子岩 or Yugan yan 御干岩, referring to ‘rock’ tea from Wuyi.

10 There are probably more in the Nordiska Museet, cf below.


12 and

13 Landeri is a now almost extinct form of landed property and could be translated as ‘estate’.

14 Another source says he bought it in 1763. It changed hands again in 1792.

15 Otto Thulin & Paul Harnesk, Svenska stadsmonografier : Göteborg. (Göteborg, Religion & Kultur, 1948), p. 66ff.

16 Otto Thulin, ‘Marieholms 1700-tals Tapeter’, in Göteborgs Posten, Saturday addendum, 11 February 1939. I am grateful to Pernilla Karlsson and Christian Thorén at Göteborgs Stadsmuseum for digging out this article for me. 

17 A ‘hanging’ calendar with superimposed glasses is also on a trompe l’oeil painting in the Lingyan Si 靈巖寺 in Jinan, Shandong province, illustrated in Kay E. Black, Ch’aekkŏri Painting – A Korean Jigsaw Puzzle, p. 96. 

18 The other three prints at VM might carry a date, not visible from present photographs.


20,,, and

21 See Nancy Berliner, The 8 Brokens – Chinese Bapo Painting. (Boston, 2018), pp. 14-15.

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Veltrusy Mansion and its Chinese Prints

Veltrusy Mansion (Czech: Zámek Veltrusy) is a baroque country house in Veltrusy Village, Bohemia, located in the Mělník District of the Czech Republic. The mansion is situated on the banks of the Vltava River, about 25 km north of Prague.



The mansion was initially built in 1716 by architect František Maxmilián Kaňka for Count Václav Antonín Chotek of Chotkov and Vojnín. The original mansion was extended in 1764 by architect Giovanni Battista Alliprandi on the orders of Count Rudolf Chotek of Chotkov and Vojnín, the son of Václav Antonín, who also commissioned the interior decoration.

What is of interest to us here is the Cabinetl on the first floor. This small room, 370 x 290 cm, was installed in either 1754 for a visit by Francis I and his powerful wife, Maria Theresa, or in 1766 following the 1764 flooding of the Vltava River, a tributary of the Elbe not far away. The north wall has a window, the east wall has a hidden door (leading to the bedroom), and the west wall has a regular door leading to the so-called Maria Theresa Hall, one of the major ceremonial rooms.

The Cabinetl contains 51 Chinese woodblock prints glued on painted textile panels, 320 cm high, stretched and nailed upon wooden frames, placed above a 75 cm high wooden dado. The prints are hand-coloured on paper which has been cut out and pasted upon the textile panels. The prints are surrounded by painted rococo frames with shading, giving a three-dimensional impression (the same concept as in the Millionen-Zimmer in Schönbrunn). The background, imitating woodgrain, is also painted directly on the fabric. This assemblage was covered with a layer of a shining varnish – the cause of much headache during the recent conservation. The display gives the impression of a room with wooden panelling, the frames of the images intertwined with foliage and greenery. In reality, they are painted textile wall-hangings with paper applications. The room was reopened in July 2020 after a thorough restoration and conservation of the textile and paper.

View of south wall.
View of south wall.

The 51 prints can be divided into:

11 prints of meiren 美人 Beauties (4 are duplicated and 1 is triplicated, all c. 65 cm)

10 prints of flower pots (6 with lotus, 4 with camellia)

4 prints of birds

26 prints of baskets with flowers (3 different motifs, c. 30×30 cm).


Only one of the Beauties can be identified with certainty, the lady holding a blue vase.

First Beauty
First Beauty

This is Magu 麻姑, the Goddess of Longevity or Daoist Immortal Magu. She wears a shoulder cape of leaves, a traditional Daoist item of dress. The covered jar has dragon decoration and contains wine which Magu brews from the lingzhi 靈芝fungus, and is to be a birthday present for Xi Wangmu 西王母 (Mother of the West). Magu appears twice on the south wall, including as one of the central figures. Paintings or prints of Magu were often given as presents to celebrate the birthdays of elderly women and they were usually hung in the middle of a wall in a living room.

This print is also seen among the wallpapers at Milton Hall, near Peterborough, and again in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, near Plymouth (where the vase is blue-and-white), both located in the UK.1

Other attributes of Magu are the hoe and the basket which is also found with a second Beauty. Perhaps she is another personification of Magu in this room. Her hat, generally called weimao 帷帽 or mili 冪蘺 with the rolled-up protective textile veil (against the sun, and possibly mosquitoes) originated in the Tang dynasty and can be observed in paintings.2 Apparently, this print was a favourite since it occurs as the central figure on both the south and east walls. Of the five Beauties, she is the most ‘western’ one, much thanks to the hat, and therefore was given a prime position. This print is also found among the wallpapers of the Study at Saltram.3 A fragment of this print is to be found at Oud Amelisweerd, near Utrecht, Holland.

Second Beauty
Second Beauty

Third Beauty
Third Beauty

A third Beauty also has a basket as an attribute. This basket contains, among other fruits, a pomegranate (symbol for many sons) and a Buddha Finger citrus fruit, known as foshou 佛手, a rebus for fushou 福壽 (May You Have Good Fortune and Longevity), a popular motif in traditional Chinese art. This Beauty also holds a branch of nandina (heavenly bamboo, shown with black berries). There are three examples of this print on the walls (all the other four Beauties are only in two prints each), in a secondary position on the north and west walls.

Fourth Beauty
Fourth Beauty

The fourth Beauty holds a fishing rod of spotted bamboo, just like the hoe above, and a newly-caught fish. She has the typical headcloth associated with fishing girls. This print is seen among the wallpapers at the Study at Saltram and again at Milton Hall.4

Fifth Beauty
Fifth Beauty

The fifth and final Beauty holds a round-shaped fan, tuanshan 團扇, and a camellia flower. The fan is beautifully decorated on transparent silk gauze through which her garment can be seen.

All the dresses of the Beauties have shading in the folds to emphasize volume and perspective, a western influence.


Interspersed with the Beauties are two types of flower pots or urns. One contains lotus leaves and flowers (6 prints), the other a flowering camellia (4 prints). The pots appear as three-legged vessels and have shading to give size, volume and brilliance.

The violet-coloured lotus pot might be of ceramic or metal. A dragon floats among juhua chanzhi wen 菊花纏枝紋, a popular pattern of clouds and intertwined stems of chrysanthemum, a symbol of longevity, very similar to the decor on the vase carried by Magu above. The lotus is a symbol of purity of the body and mind.

The second pot is most likely of ceramic with a green celadon glaze. It too has stylised dragons as a decorative pattern.



At the bottom centre of the east and south walls are four prints of birds pasted in pairs.

These birds are easily identified as belonging to the bird and flower prints by Ding Liangxian 丁亮先 of which a fair number (32 in all) are in the Sloane Collection in the British Museum. This group of prints were formerly (and mistakenly) referred to as the ‘Kaempfer prints’ but can now be dated to the 1740s.

A common leitmotif in all these four prints are two birds, a blossoming plum branch (two in brown, two in blue), an additional plant, different in each print, a four-character inscription using the birds’ names as a pun for famous sayings, and a six-character signature: Gusu Ding Liangxian Zhi 姑蘓丁亮先製 (Made by Ding Liangxian from Gusu [the old name for Suzhou]). The Veltrusy prints have been trimmed so that these 10 characters of text have disappeared in all four prints. Also vanished are any trace of gonghua 拱花 (gaufrage or blind embossing), a delicate technique first used in early seventeenth-century colour printing and at which, almost 100 years later, Ding Liangxian excelled. In the subsequent mounting and pasting on fabric, this relief effect was flattened out. The flower which was to receive gaufrage was printed without any outlines and in a light-sensitive red, now faded, and at some point of time a touch-up was done, sometimes replacing the original flower with a different one.

On the south wall we see a pair of waxbills on the left facing a pair of magpies on the right. On the east wall are a pair of thrushes and a pair of mynah birds. To my knowledge, this is the only example of Ding prints being used as wallpapers.


The smallest and most numerous prints (26) are those of a basket with flowers. These basket prints are dispersed in corners and at bottom and top of the print arrangements. At first glance they appear to belong to the group of Ding prints, the same as the bird prints. However, a careful comparison with signed Ding prints shows the Veltrusy prints to emanate from different woodblocks. The prints have suffered the same fate as the bird prints, ie any gaufrage has been pressed out and some original faded flowers have been painted over with other species.

Basket 1
Basket 1

It is well-known that variant copies of the Ding prints were issued although it is not known by whom and when. It is possible that the Ding studio issued cheaper examples of their own prints, although even the variant prints can not have been all that cheap since they had to be printed an extra time with the gaufrage. Another possible scenario was that opportunist printers got on the bandwagon, seeing how popular the Ding prints were, by publishing their own versions, carefully omitting the Ding signature although keeping the text of the poems.


Basket 2
Basket 2

Known to us are copies (variants) with a signature Xu Yuanshan 許源山. Those prints are sloppily executed with crude cutting of the block, including rough calligraphy and watery colouring, but still retaining proof of having been printed with gonghua (gaufrage).

Basket 4 with Xu Yuanshan signature, although the Yuan character has been omitted. Author's collection.
Basket 4 with Xu Yuanshan signature, although the Yuan character has been omitted. Author’s collection.

Another group of variants are of better quality – the cutting is finer, the calligraphy is neater and the colouring better than the Xu Yuanshan group. Only two examples of that group of prints are known to me (and became known only recently!). Both those prints are in the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, Holland – Basket 25 and Basket 46 [the numbering sequence is my own]. It should be mentioned that both groups of variants are direct copies of Ding prints, with only small modifications and differences, but from newly cut woodblocks.


Detail of Basket 4, with part of text
Detail of Basket 4, with part of text

Represented on the walls in the Cabinetl are three of the four baskets: round basket with lotus, pomegranate and day lily (Basket 1 [references are to BM examples]); round wide-rimmed basket with narcissus, camellia and wax plum (Basket 2); and square basket with hibiscus, yellow hibiscus and chrysanthemum (Basket 4). Omitted is the round, open-weaved Basket 3 with peony, white magnolia and peach blossom. All texts have been cut away, except on one example of Basket 4 at the top right corner of the east wall. This text follows the text on the Ding print.

At first glance I assumed the Veltrusy print group to be the same as the Leiden Museum group but closer examinations show the Veltrusy prints to differ from the Leiden examples. They are without any doubt printed from different woodblocks. Accordingly, there are three different variant editions of the Ding originals, at least among the basket prints. The photographs I took during my visit are not clear enough, unfortunately, to inspect the prints in detail, and I await the kind and helpful curator to help me procure high-resolution professional photographs. With the help of such photographs one can make better comparisons and judgements.

View of east wall, with 'hidden' door behind  the lotus pot.
View of east wall, with ‘hidden’ door behind the lotus pot.

As is the case with the four bird prints above, this is the first time, to my knowledge, that copies or variants of Ding prints are being used as wallpaper. All other known Ding prints and their variants are sheet prints which have never been mounted on a wall. The fact that original Ding prints (the birds) are combined or mixed with variants of Ding prints (the baskets) might indicate that they all originated from the Ding studio. But then we have too little knowledge on the distribution, export and transport of prints in and from China and equally scant information on the import, selling, distribution and mounting of them in Europe to be able to make reliable conclusions. We see that other examples of the Veltrusy Beauty prints are also found in two locations in the UK and one in Holland, indicating a fairly wide distribution network in Europe.

Part view of west wall.
Part view of west wall.

As far as the arranging and hanging of the prints is concerned, the artisan who undertook it was skilful and experienced. He has achieved a symmetry and balance with the print material at hand (presumably he did not have access to more prints those which were hanged) which in combination with the very cleverly applied intertwined frame patterns resulted in an eye-pleasing display. As can be seen from the drawings, the east and south walls are ‘entire’ walls although the east wall has a hidden door behind one of the lotus pots. The arrangement for both is two figures as central motifs, the left figure is repeated above on the left, the right figure is identical on both walls, as is the figure above it to the right. Three lotus pots are placed right, left and above on both walls. Below the central figures are the two birds. In each corner is a basket, the upper ones identical and the bottom ones identical. The north and west walls form three columns with identical Beauty below and the camellia pot above, surrounded by baskets in each corner. On the supraporte above the window is only space for two baskets but above the door opening is a camellia pot surrounded by four baskets, partly mirroring the arrangement on each side of the door. The only occurrence of a break in the symmetry is on the bottom left of the west wall where the baskets are now 2 – 1 whereas it should have been either 2 – 2 or 1 – 1. Maybe there was a shortage of one or the other basket?

Corner of north and east walls.
Corner of north and east walls.
Scheme of the wall arrangements
Scheme of the wall arrangements


When fresh, the room must have been an amazing and impressive display of colours and exotic motifs. Still today, it is impossible to enter the room without feeling a wow-sensation.

  1. Emile de Bruijn: Chinese Wallpaper in Britain and Ireland, London, Philip Wilson in association with the National Trust, 2017, pp. 44-7 and 52-4; Emile de Bruijn: ‘The Use of Chinese Prints as Wallcoverings in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Europe’, in Gabriela Krist and Elfriede Iby (eds.), The Conservation of East Asian Cabinets in Imperial Residences (1700-1900), Vienna, Böhlau Verlag in association with the Universität für angewandte Kunst, 2018, pp. 61–73, at pp. 64-5, 67 and 70.
  3. De Bruijn 2017, pp. 37-44; de Bruijn 2018, pp. 63-5 and 69
  4. De Bruijn 2017, pp. 40-2 and 44-6; de Bruijn 2018, pp. 63-5 and 67-70
  5. WM-29286
  6. WM-29285
Posted in Bird & Flower, chinese prints, prints, Suzhou prints, Wallpaper, woodblock | 3 Comments

Chinese Books in European Dress

Chinese books had certainly arrived in Europe by the sixteenth century, mainly through the East India Company trade, initially the Portuguese, then the Dutch and later the British, as well as through missionaries and Jesuits. However, beside a few occurrences of Chinese characters reproduced in books about China, they had little impact on the western book world and mainly considered as curiosae. It is in the early eighteenth century that we first see reproductions in western books of illustrations gathered from Chinese publications. There are many explanations for this change, one being that the West at this time took a greater interest in things Chinese, resulting in the chinoiserie craze and the belief that China enjoyed a calm and benevolent government. Another explanation is that the reproduced illustrations were more accessible to the western eye and taste, containing western elements such as shading and vanishing point perspective, elements that had been introduced to Chinese pictorial tools by western artists active at the imperial court, especially during the Kangxi reign (1661-1722).

Two illustrated Chinese publications have been particular popular in the West – Yuzhi Gengzhi Tushi 御製耕織圖詩 and Yuzhi Bishu Shanzhuang Shi 御製避暑山莊詩, both of great fame in China, having seen many printed editions as well as having been reproduced on porcelains, lacquer, paintings, sheet prints, etc. We know that Gengzhi Tu, Pictures of Tilling and Weaving, was published by imperial command in 1696, during the Kangxi reign, and that Jiao Bingzhen 焦秉貞 was the artist and Zhu Gui 朱圭 and Mei Yufeng 梅裕鳳 the woodblock cutters. The bibliographic intricacy of the various editions has left us undecided to which edition was published first – a black-seal edition or a red-seal edition. Both are exquisite in printing and character, but emanate from different woodblocks.

Yuzhi Gengzhi Tushi 御製耕織圖詩

By the late 1730s a copy of Gengzhi Tu had found its way to Europe, to Sweden, and we fortunately possess substantial background information on this copy. It was purchased by Hans Teurloen (?-1743), or Tourlon, in Canton in 1739. Teurloen was a Supercargo aboard Stockholm on its voyage to Canton ? December 1737 – 13 July 1739. Stockholm was a Swedish East India Company ship with Gothenburg as its home port. Teurloen travels to the capital Stockholm upon his return, and next we hear of him he is attending a meeting at the then newly-founded Royal Academy of Science on August 29th, 1739. In the protocols of the Academy for this day we read that Teurloen is proposed, by no less than the illustrious Academy Head, Carl Linnaeus, as a member of the Academy with the justification that during his travels to East India he could bring back many objects and ideas which would be useful for the Academy, and that he now also offers to donate to the Academy two illustrated volumes which he had brought with him from East India, one about silk weaving and the other about rice plantation, in drawings, which were shown to the assembled Board. The proposition was accepted and tabled for voting within 14 days.

A week later, on the 5th of September, the Board of the Academy is meeting again when there is a request that Teurloen should be made a member instantly with the argument that he will soon travel (he actually boarded Stockholm again for a voyage to Canton 5 April 1740 – 18 October 1742) and that he not only wish to donate the two books from East India but that he would also be of great service to the Academy for any matter relating to information and objects from this part of the world. All members agreed, Teurloen was called in to give an ex tempore speech and to formally hand over the two volumes he had acquired in China. He explained that the volumes “had been produced 5 years earlier, in 1735 when the reigning emperor (Qianlong emperor) came to the throne, to whom Gengzhi Tu had been dedicated as proof of the toil and much work that his people had to suffer, and only through this the emperor was great and omnipotent”. Teurloen was elected a member, mostly on the basis of the two volumes he donated. Unfortunately he did not get much use or advantage from his membership as he died in 1743.

Also attending the meeting was Mårten Triewald (1691-1747), one of the 6 founding members of the Academy, who praised the works that Teurloen had donated and who said that the volumes would be useful for his future study upon silkworms, and how he could in them study the planting and tilling of rice and mulberry and later write on this for the benefit of the Academy.

Actually, Mårten Triewald did write his study of silkworms, and it was published in the Handlingar (Transactions) of the Academy for 1745 and 46, in five parts, as Rön och försök angående möjligheten, att i Sverige kunna äga egit rådt silke (Findings and Trials Regarding the Possibility to Own Ones Own Raw Silk in Sweden), in other words have local silk worm rearing. As illustrations he picked three pages from Teurloen’s volumes and, most likely, commissioned the in-house copper-engraver Carl Bergquist (1711-1781) to engrave the copperplates. Bergquist changed the format to a landscape view and, due to the smaller size of the Transactions, the illustrations were folded in the book.

When seeing the first illustration, numbered Tab 11 (Plate 11), we have no problem in identifying it as emanating from Gengzhi Tu since it is a reversed image of scene 30.

Scene 30, 1696 editionScene 30, 1696 edition
Plate 11, 1745 TransactionsPlate 11, 1745 Transactions

Bergquist spaced the figures and trees differently, but succeeded in keeping the atmosphere of the original. The second illustration was published in 1746, Plate 3, and is from Gengzhi Tu scene 27, again mirror reversed.

Scene 27, 1696 editionScene 27, 1696 edition
Plate 3, 1746 TransactionsPlate 3, 1746 Transactions

Finally the third illustration is also from 1746, Plate 9, Gengzhi Tu scene 26.

Scene 26, 1696 editionScene 26, 1696 edition
Plate 9, 1746 TransactionsPlate 9, 1746 Transactions

The two volumes of Gengzhi Tu that Hans Teurloen donated are still in the collections of the Academy, and I was recently allowed to see them. They turn out to be not printed but painted in colour after the original 1696 printed edition. They have no text whatsoever in them, not even a title on the cover.

Cover of painted Gengzhi tu, ca. 1735Cover of painted Gengzhi tu, ca. 1735

The paintings are well executed and the colours are still very fresh and bright.

Scene 30, painted albumScene 30, painted album
Scene 27, painted albumScene 27, painted album

It is obvious that the Board of the Academy in 1739 were impressed by these images, and attributed great value to the volumes, enough to warrant a membership.

Scene 26, painted album, ca. 1735Scene 26, painted album, ca. 1735

How Teurloen was able to say that they had been produced in 1735 is not evident, maybe he received some local information when buying them. A comparison between his painted version with a printed 1696 example proves beyond doubt that this was indeed the version Bergquist used for his copperplates.

Plate 9, scene 26 comparisons between woodblock printed, painted and copperplate printed editionsPlate 9, scene 26 comparisons between woodblock printed, painted and copperplate printed editions

The 1696 printed version of this scene shows an intricate pattern on the gate which has become more curly in the painted version and this latter pattern is copied on the copperplate-print. The hairdo and the inclination of the servant girl to the left has changed in the painted version, and the same reoccurs in the copperplate-printed illustration. The vegetation under the round window disappears in the painted image, as well as in the copperplate. Many other details can be found in the three different images that prove that the Swedish copperplate engravings emanated from the painted album, not from the printed edition.

Plate 9, scene 26 comparisons between woodblock printed, painted and copperplate printed editionsPlate 9, scene 26 comparisons between woodblock printed, painted and copperplate printed editions

The fact that the two volumes are painted and not printed does not distract from their importance as vestiges of a pre-1739 date for this kind and style of painting.

These early illustrations of silk rearing and weaving from Gengzhi Tu were soon followed by others. Next occurrence is in England and from the Geng, tilling section. It is entitled The Rice Manufactury in China: From the Originals Brought from China. London: Printed for T. Bowles in St. Pauls Church Yard, John Bowles & Son in Cornhil, & Robert Sayer in Fleet Street. There are 24 plates, including the cover, each 205×260 mm, engraved by John June after A.(gustin) H.(eckel).

 Cover page, ca. 1763Cover page, ca. 1763

There is no date, but the publishers’ names as listed on the title/cover-page give us an indication of dating. T.(homes) Bowles operated in St. Pauls Churchyard until 1763 when his nephew Carington Bowles took over the business. John Bowles was Thomas’ younger brother. John’s son Carington became a partner in 1752 or 1753 and for the next ten years they traded as John Bowles & Son. The shop was damaged by fire in 1766 and they moved back to Cheapside. Robert Sayer, a major British publisher and print-seller, operated at the Golden Buck until, in the mid-1760s, with the introduction of street numbering, the address changed to 53 Fleet Street. Accordingly, we can date these prints to c. 1762 or 1763 at the latest.

A variant imprint is on record: Printed for Carington Bowles, No. 69 in St. Pauls Church Yard, John Bowles, No. 13, in Cornhil, & Robert Sayer in Fleet Street, and the date 1770 has been associated with it.

Cover page, ca. 1770Cover page, ca. 1770

Obviously this is a reprint of the plates with a new text on the title/cover-page. The publishers involved were very active at this time and frequently reprinted their plates. The size of the copperplate is 210x257mm.

The complete book, in either edition, appears to be rare, and even odd plates are scarce in public libraries.

Basically, the images closely follow the Chinese compositions. They are, again, mirror-reversed and the format has been changed. Each illustration has text explaining the activity and a number in the upper right margin.

Scene 2, 1696 editionScene 2, 1696 edition
Scene 2, ca. 1763Scene 2, ca. 1763
Scene 18, 1696 editionScene 18, 1696 edition
Scene 18, ca. 1763Scene 18, ca. 1763


Yuzhi Bishu Shanzhuang Shi 御製避暑山莊詩

The second book that saw a western edition is the Yuzhi Bishu Shanzhuang Shi 御製避暑山莊詩, Imperially published in 1712. The original was in Chinese, with 36 woodblock-printed folding illustrations. A Manchu edition was published the year after, using the same woodblock illustrations cut by Zhu Gui 朱圭 and Mei Yufeng 梅裕鳳 after paintings by Shen Yu 沈崳. Note that Zhu Gui and Mei Yufeng also cut the blocks for Yuzhi Gengzhi Tushi. In 1741 Qianlong added his own poems and had the entire work recut.

The Kangxi emperor was intrigued by the technique of copperplate-printing and he instructed Matteo Ripa, Ma Guoxian 馬國賢 (1682-1746), the Italian missionary of the Propaganda Fide who worked at his court, to engrave or etch Shen Yu’s illustrations in copper and have them printed. Ripa did so, and after much tribulation had the 36 plates printed in 1714 in some 70 sets.

It is said that, when Ripa returned to Europe in 1724, he met with King George I and the Earl of Burlington and the latter is said to have acquired a set of the 36 views from Ripa, or perhaps even two sets. The British Museum copy is claimed, with some uncertainty, to be one of these sets. According to some scholars, Ripa’s prints had a tremendous influence on the development of the English natural garden in the eighteenth century. Other scholars deny this. However, the only documented influence of Ripa on western culture is a reprint of 20 of the 36 plates in The Emperor of China’s Palace at Pekin, and his Principal Gardens, as well in Tartary, as at Pekin, Gehol. Printed for and sold by Thomas Bowles, John Bowles and Son, Robert Sayer, and Henry Overton, London, 1753. We see that it is partly the same publishers as in the c. 10 years later Rice Manufactury.

Cover page 1753

The book contains eighteen plates copying Ripa’s work, and two others of which the first is copied from Nieuhof’s account of the Dutch East India Company’s embassy to China in 1655. The second depicts an ‘Indian’ throne. A detailed description of this book is found in Marcia Reed et al: China on Paper. Los Angeles, 2007; p. 206.

As with Rice Manufactury, the Emperor of China’s Palace appears to be very rare, and (mainly) incomplete sets can be traced. Our collection contains nine of the prints, all hand-coloured. Ripa took artistic liberty in his prints to add details which were not in the original woodblock prints (or the paintings). Bowles & Co. went even further and embellished their prints with clouds, people, animals, boats and other irrelevant objects.

Ripa, view No. 32Ripa, view No. 32
Bowles, view No. 32Bowles, view No. 32
Ripa, view No. 33Ripa, view No. 33
Bowles, view No. 33Bowles, view No. 33


It is interesting to note that the great passion for things Chinese which was in vogue during the 1740s to 1760s also caused two major imperial publications of great ranking and sophistication to be reproduced and printed in the West.

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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.


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.


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 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.


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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