Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

“Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk (Dao Lian Tu, 捣练图)” is a famous Chinese painting of the Tang Dynasty. It showing noble women ironing, sewing, and pounding the silk. It is an important custom painting of the Tang Dynasty, and is one of the more chic works among the paintings of ladies in the Tang Dynasty. It is the work of Zhang Xuan (张萱), a painter of the Tang Dynasty, and has had a great influence on the style of later paintings, and is also a great help to the study of modern Hanfu styles. Let’s see the special details of this painting.

Zhang Xuan of Tang Dynasty

“Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk” was originally painted by Zhang Xuan in the Tang Dynasty, the painting “Lady Guoguo’s Spring Outing (虢国夫人游春图)” is also a painting by him. Zhang Xuan mainly depicts the leisurely life scenes of royal and noble women, such as spring Outing, dressing up, drumming the qin, playing music, and enjoying the snow.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

flourishing Tang Dynasty

Copied by Emperor Huizong

Tang and Song history recorded dozens of Zhang Xuan’s paintings, many also repeatedly copied by many painters, but out of Zhang Xuan’s own handwriting of the original work, today there is no one remains. History left two important copies, namely, the legend is Song Huizong copied the “Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk” and “Lady Guoguo’s Spring Outing”.

This “Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk”, currently collected in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, is a high-quality copy.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

In ancient times, the only means by which paintings were passed down was through copy. This copy is said to have been copied by Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty. However, some researchers believe that it was made by a painter at the palace painting academy of the time.

What “Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk” depicts?

The imperial family of the Tang Dynasty held numerous ceremonies each year to promote Confucian morality. During the flourishing Tang Dynasty, Chang’an was the center of silk production in the country. Therefore, every spring, the Empress would lead her maids in a silk-making ceremony, from raising silkworms to spinning cloth, to show the Tang emperor’s desire to encourage agriculture. The painting “Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk” depicts the ladies in the silk-making ceremony. They are dressed in elegant silk robes, with neat hairstyles, performing the ritual tasks at ease.

“Lian (练)” is a raw silk woven product with white color. When the raw silk fabric was first woven, it was tough and needed to be soaked in grass wood ash water or shell ash water for seven days to degum it with alkaline water. Then use a mallet, repeatedly pounding, in order to shorten the degumming time, and then use the iron to flatten. This process is called “Daoyi (捣衣)”, and the raw silk fabric becomes soft, white and lustrous.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

“Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk” is a scroll painting with a slightly overhead view, from the right to the left. The three groups of figures are standing and sitting, with varying heights and partial compositions, from right to left, in the form of a circle, a triangle, and a cross, respectively, combining movement and stillness with precision and ingenuity. The lines of the painting are even and thin, smooth and vigorous, full and tense.

The woman in the painting is elegant and plump, hair is in a high bun, the face is covered with Huadian (花钿), looks calm, and the body moves quietly and elegantly, and belongs to the image of noble women.

Tang Dynasty Qixiong Shanqun (齐胸衫裙) dresses. Small-sleeved clothes, long skirt, skirt tied to the chest, high bun inserted three or five small comb, seems to be the Changfu (常服) of the court concubines during the Kaiyuan period.

Group 1

On the right side of the scroll are four women gathered around a stone anvil, pounding with a wooden mallet. Two of them are holding the mallets with slight force, and two of them are putting down the mallets to take a break. The two ends of the raw silk in the stone groove are tied tightly in order to prevent the edge of the silk mouth from being broken by the pounding.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

The woman in the red shirt and blue dress on the left is leaning gently against the mallet, with her hand pulling up one side of her sleeve, vividly realistic. The Tang Dynasty skirt color is gorgeous, red, purple, yellow, green competition, and during the flourishing Tang Dynasty, the red skirt is especially popular.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

Tang Dynasty women like to insert a few small combs in the hair as decoration, sophisticated with gold, silver, rhinoceros, jade, and other materials, comb back for the half-moon shape, with a small comb for decoration began in the Tang Dynasty, popular in the late Tang Dynasty.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

Group 2

In the middle of the scroll are two women sitting opposite each other. One of them is sitting on a carpet arranging silk thread, while the other is sitting on a low stool busily sewing.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

The “Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk” places the relatively static scene of two women sitting opposite each other in the center of the painting, flanked by the more dynamic scene of standing labor.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

Group 3

On the left side of the scroll are six figures. Four women are ironing silk, three pullings, and one ironing. The left one leans back because of the backward force, and the ironer holds a wooden-handled metal spoon “iron” in one hand to smooth out the folds produced by the tying.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

The ironing spoon is red charcoal wood, charcoal from charcoal fire bowl in the middle of the scroll. The charcoal fire bowl is beautifully patterned, and all three layers are different, with carrying handles on both sides, equipped with fire chopsticks used to add charcoal, the bottom layer is empty, used to ventilate to help ignite.

Squatting next to a girl in the inciting wind burning charcoal, because the charcoal in the basin burning too hot and feel uncomfortable to turn their faces, and sleeve to cover their faces. This action just echoes the group 2 of pictures.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

And there is a naughty child scurrying around, looking around with interest, to playfully break the monotonous atmosphere of concentration, so that the painting is lively and lyrical.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

In the painting, the woman is dressed in a semi-breastless Shanqun, short top, and long skirt, with a Pibo (披帛, shawl) on her shoulders, and the pattern on the costume is exquisite, elegant, and graceful. The dresses are as thin as cicada wings, light and airy. The colors are blended and harmonized, intermingled, and no piece of color is the same.

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The “Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk” shows noble women pounding silk and sewing clothes. It is considered to be the earliest clothing process painting in China, and it is an important historical document for people today to understand the working life and clothing of women in the Tang Dynasty court.

Painting Appreciation: Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

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