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Seated Portrait of the Ming Emperor Xuanzong (New Window)

Seated Portrait of the Ming Emperor Xuanzong

Anonymous, Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper,
252.2 x 124.8 cm


The Ming dynasty emperor Xuanzong (1399-1435) had the surname Zhu and the first name Zhanji. The eldest grandson of Emperor Chengzu, he was the fifth ruler of the dynasty. On the throne from 1426 to 1435 with the reign name Xuande, he was given the posthumous temple name Xuanzong. Also gifted at painting, this full portrait done in colors depicts Xuanzong with a dark countenance and a full beard. He wears a black gauze cap with wing-like projections folded upwards and is adorned in a yellow robe with cloud-and-dragon decoration. One hand holds onto his belt inlaid with precious materials as he sits on a beautifully carved dragon chair placed on a brocaded rug with coiled-dragon patterns. The painting style is quite realistic throughout and the angles to the drapery lines powerfully rendered, the washes of the facial area emphasizing the sitter's character. Judging also from its opulent colors, this work most likely came from the hand of a painter at the Ming court.

Three Yang [Goats], an Auspicious Start (to the New Year)(New Window)

Three Yang [Goats], an Auspicious Start (to the New Year)

Emperor Xuanzong (1399-1435), Ming dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper,
211.6 x 142.5 cm


Emperor Xuanzong (personal name Zhu Zhanji) was able to produce free and natural works of painting and calligraphy, resulting in him often being compared to Huizong (1082-1135), the Northern Song emperor most renowned in Chinese history as an artist. In this ink painting with light colors from the fourth year of Xuanzong's reign (1429) are a ewe and two lambs with a background of bamboo, rocks, and camellias. The subject of three goats is a homophone for "Three Yang, an Auspicious Start to the New Year." This title comes from the Book of Changes, which consists of 64 hexagram (six-line) combinations of trigrams (three-line symbols). The eleventh hexagram translates literally as "Earth (and) Heavens (at) Peace" and is represented by the symbol . With the three lines of qian (yang) below and three of kun (yin) above unified and harmoniously connected, it symbolizes peace throughout the heavens and earth. Of the twelve lunar months, the first is when peace takes up residence, marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring when yin is eclipsed by yang, indicating an auspicious sign.

Gibbons at Play (New Window)

Gibbons at Play

Emperor Xuanzong (1399-1435), Ming dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper,
162.3 x 127.7 cm


The Ming emperor Xuanzong (Zhu Zhanji) enjoyed composing poems and doing paintings. According to the signature on this work, it was done in the second year of the Xuande reign (1427) by Xuanzong at the Chinese age of 29. It vividly and warmly depicts joy in the relationships found in a family of gibbons. Squatting on a rock, the mother gibbon clasps her baby, the father having plucked loquats for them. The youth has its left arm around its mother's neck and reaches out for the fruit teasingly presented by its father on the other bank of the stream. The varied poses of the gibbons with their animated expressions and actions are complemented by the expressive texture of fur rendered ingeniously with light and dark as well as wet and dry applications of ink. The lines for the thorny shrubs, bamboo, reeds, and water ripples in the setting are also natural and fluid.

Poem on Winter Warmth in a Palace Garden (New Window)

Poem on Winter Warmth in a Palace Garden

Emperor Xuanzong (1399-1435), Ming dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 47.3 x 23.9 cm


Emperor Xuanzong's accomplishments in calligraphy are frequently overshadowed by his renown in painting, with later critics stating that it is "from that of the Shen Brothers (Du and Can) of Huating. Not only was he capable at mellow brushwork, he also gave it vigor." This work, done in the sixth year of his reign (1431), was presented to Director Cheng Nanyun. The character forms are similar to those of the famous Yuan dynasty calligrapher Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), reflecting trends found in calligraphy since the early Ming dynasty. Here, however, the application of the brush was quicker, the places where the brush was applied and lifted appearing unornamented. Cheng Nanyun was a Secretariat Drafter gifted at calligraphy in the Yongle reign (1403-1424). Excelling at painting and calligraphy, he was especially talented in seal and clerical script. Anthology of Poetry by Emperor Xuanzong also includes a poem entitled "Song on Cursive Script" done for Cheng Nanyun in 1432.

(Peonies of) Wealth and Prosperity in a Pot (New Window)

(Peonies of) Wealth and Prosperity in a Pot

Emperor Xuanzong (1399-1435), Ming dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper,
110.5 x 54.4 cm


According to its inscription, this painting was done in the fourth year of Xuanzong's reign (1429) for the high official Yang Shiqi (1365-1444). The cat here looks up with curiosity at the peonies arranged in the hanging bronze pot, as if about to find a way to leap up and get a closer look. The traditional word for cat in Chinese is a homophone for octogenarian and therefore a blessing for longevity, while the peony is an age-old symbol of wealth and prosperity. The brushwork for rendering the cat is here delicate and exceptionally refined. The three peony blossoms arranged in the flowerpot, with shades of green leaves in the middle, overhang from the rim for a sense of overflowing abundance. Also on the ground is a three-legged washbasin, a classical form produced at the imperial kilns in the early Ming dynasty.

Emperor Xuanzong of the Ming on Horseback (New Window)

Emperor Xuanzong of the Ming on Horseback

Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk,
84.1 x 68.1 cm


This painting bears no inscription of the artist, but attached at the lower left is a small label with four characters in running script that reads, "Xuanzong indulging in pleasure." Depicting Xuanzong on horseback on a hunting trip, a falcon is perched on his arm as he gallops by the banks of a river to scare up wild geese. Historical records indicate that Xuanzong was fond of arts related to the bow and horse, being gifted at horseback archery. In the painting here, Xuanzong is shown with a full face and dense beard as he wears thin white riding boots as well as a collared right-folding yellow robe decorated with brocade over the chest, shoulders, and knees. His hat with a bead at the top is thought to have been influenced by that used by nomadic peoples of the plains in the Yuan dynasty. The decoration on either side of the hat is identical to that worn by Xuanzong in the handscroll "Emperor Xuanzong of the Ming Indulging in Pleasure," now in the Palace Museum, Beijing.