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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About chiwoopri

Collector and researcher of old Chinese woodblock prints
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