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Past Exhibits

The Beauty of Palace-Covering Flowers: Zhao Chang's "Picture for the New Year"
The Beauty of Palace-Covering Flowers: Zhao Chang's "Picture for the New Year"
  • Dates: 2013/01/01~2013/03/25
  • Gallery: Exhibition Area I 208

Exhibit Info

“Picture for the New Year” ascribed to the Song dynasty artist Zhao Chang (ca. late 10th c.-early 11th c.) is in a unique category among paintings in the collection of the National Palace Museum. Its composition features a highly compressed field of depth in which layers build up with rocks on a slope surrounded by dense flowering plants and trees that overlap and cover the entire surface. In this close-up scene, a garden setting in nature is transformed into a fascinating pattern rich and vibrant with decorative quality. In Guo Ruoxu’s (fl. 11th c.) Record of Experiences in Painting from the Song dynasty is the following description of a type of painting known as “palace-covering flowers”:

On twin panels of fine silk, Xu Xi [fl. ca. early 10th c.] of Jiangnan and his generation had painted clusters of blossoms and layers of rocks accompanied by herbs and sprouts interspersed with the marvels of birds, wasps, and cicadas. The works were then presented to [the ruler] Li Yu to be hung as decoration in palaces. They were hence known as “palace-covering flowers” and also sometimes called “hall-decking flowers.” The intent behind their arrangement is majestic as well as orderly and precise, but many of them do not capture a lifelike or natural manner, which is why viewers often do not appreciate them very much.

Judging from the above, the painting on display here accords well with this record and can serve as a representative example of “palace-covering flowers.” The azurite blue applied to much of the background also increases the rich and gorgeous atmosphere of the surface. In the Museum collection is another work attributed to the Five Dynasties painter Xu Xi, “Wealth and Honor in the Halls of Jade,” which also belongs to this style. Paintings in the style of “palace-covering flowers” were evidently made to decorate and adorn palaces and halls. In addition to their patterned compositions, fine brushwork and opulent colors are also their definitive characteristics. “Picture for the New Year” uses the painting technique of outlines filled with colors, whereby forms are first outlined and then filled with washes of color. The exquisite brushwork is made even more interesting through the use of some looser applications, allowing the brush to flow naturally. The addition of such bright colors as rouge, cinnabar red, pure white, malachite green, and azurite blue makes this opulent and majestic painting stand out even more. The sheet of paper mounted above the painting features an inscription by the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) of the Qing dynasty. In it, he mentions that the spatial arrangement and abruptly cut-off vegetation suggest that the painting was damaged in the past and then trimmed. Perhaps once having been larger, the work may have even been one in a series of screen paintings. In any case, the style of brushwork here actually appears closer to the manner of Ming dynasty (1368-1644) court painting. Thus, even though this is not an original by Zhao Chang, it still fully reflects the dazzling beauty of a type of painting known as “palace-covering flowers.”
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