Top 10 Chinese paintings (VIII):Noble Ladies in the Tang Dynasty

By / 06-08-2015 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers


Noble Ladies in the Tang Dynasty is a series of paintings by Zhang Xuan and Zhou Fang, two of the most influential figure painters of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Zhang Xuan was an outstanding artist of great reputation who lived during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) of Tang. He used fine brushwork to make paintings of people and was especially good at painting noble ladies, infants and pommel horses.

Zhou Fang was another great painter of the era and was considered to be Zhang’s equal.  He specialized in figure painting and was regarded as one of the Four Masters of Figure Painting together with Gu Kaizhi, Lu Tanwei and Wu Daozi.

The following are four most-renowned paintings in the serial.

Portrait of Lady of Guo Going Sightseeing in Spring by Zhang Xuan
Housed in the Liaoning Provincial Museum, this painting is a portrait of the Lady of Guo, the youngest of the three elder sisters of Yang Yuhuan, the favorite consort of Emperor Xuanzong. She is dressed in splendid attire during a sightseeing excursion with her family in the spring of 752, the 11th year of the Tianbao era (742-756).

In the painting, there are nine people riding horses. The three riders in the front and three riders bringing up the rear are attendants, maids and a nanny. In the middle, the two riders are the Lady of Qin and the Lady of Guo.

The inner reflections and expressions of the people are accentuated by the fine lined drawing and color layout. Its rich colors do not take away from its refined beauty, and its detailed work does not lessen its vividness.

Painting of Beating White Silk by Zhang Xuan
In 1860, when foreign armies burned the Old Summer Palace, the painting was looted and lost overseas. It is now housed at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The painting depicts the scene of city women beating white silk, ironing and sewing. Depicted in detail, women in the painting all look adept at their work but at the same time, they appear to be relaxed. With fine yet forceful lines and rich colors, the plump figures in the painting are exemplary of the Tang Dynasty style.

Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers by Zhou Fang
Now housed at Liaoning Provincial Museum, this painting depicts several court ladies in colorful dresses looking at flowers and playing with a crane or a dog in the garden in later spring or early summer. Trims on their dresses are as sheer as cicada wings, mainly in red, ocher or white, reflecting the aesthetic taste and the development of the textile industry at that time.


Court Ladies Swinging Fans by Zhou Fang
Housed in the Palace Museum in Beijing, the painting depicts 13 round-faced court ladies cooling off from the summer heat, doing embroidery or making up their hair or face. The aristocratic ladies wear tall hairdos, silk dresses, and long skirts and appear plump and indolent in sharp contrast to the smaller build of the more spirited maidservants.