601. Mark & Period 12-fold Screen
12-fold Coromandel Screen with scenes of the West Lake
Height : 274 cm Length: 12 x 48 cm
China, Kangxi period (1662-1722)
Dated 1674 (13th Year of Kangxi , Apricot Month, middle ten days)
with Galery des Lacques at the Biennale des Antiquairs, Paris 1976
This magnificent and rare dated 12-panel coromandel polychrome screen, was commissioned by the Su Family in 1674. It is decorated on both sides with detailed scenes. On one side scenes of the Westlake, on the other a festive scene of figures within gardens and pavilions. The borders depict the hundred treasures.
This well carved and painted festive scene shows joyful figures at various pursuits in a setting of terraced pavilions, amidst ornamental rocks and classical gardens. The dignitary sits in the elevated main hall, surrounded by many maids and servants. This scene reminds the viewer of Guo Ziyi, from the ‘Manchuanghu’ ( in A Bed Full of Officials’ Tablets), which depicts Guo Ziyi’s birthday. Guo is seated in the main hall watching ladies dance and musicians play, whilst his sons and friends, all high officials, approach to pay tribute. This story often appears in literature and art for a well-wishing purpose.
However, there is a theory which suggests that with especially commissioned Chinese artworks, the central figure might be the commissioner himself. In this case that would be Su Shuangde. The fact that the majority of the figures in this Palace scene are female, also invites association with a scene known as ‘Spring Morning in the Han Palace’, a scene which dates from the 12th Century. This scene is also depicted in a famous Ming period painting by Qiu Ying (1494-1552).
In this screens imaginary Palace, court ladies are busy participating in all sorts of activities. Such as playing qin (Chinese zither) on second panel from the left, dressing up and brewing tea (panel 3), delivering food and watching the rooster-fight (panel 4), feeding birds and watering plants (panel 5), nursing a child (panel 6), serving the dignitary (panel 7), directing a deer-driven chariot, playing musical instruments like the drum and the flute, and dancing (panel 8), observing peacocks (panel 9), playing weiqi (Chinese chess) and embroidering (panel 10), and even fishing (panel 11). The blooming peach (panel 4), magnolia and peony (panel 5) suggest that it is spring.
The fact that the West Lake was chosen for this screen, indicates that that the Su family - the commissioners and original owner of the screen - are most probably from Hangzhou. This lake, which still exist today, is considered the prototype for the idealized Chinese classical garden. In this depiction specific scenic spots are arranged quite realistically. The Eight-Diagram Field (panel 3 from the left), the Leifeng Pagoda (panel 4), the Lesser Yingzhou Isle (panel 5), ‘Three Pools Mirroring the Moon’ (panel 6), and the Lake-heart Pavilion (panel 7), can be clearly identified. On the upper part we see hills and peaks amidst mist. The Su Causeway spans across the whole lake and nears the curved Bai Causeway on the right end, while the city wall and gates emerge from lower edges. Numerous bridges, mansions, pavilions, boats, trees and people are elaborately spread-out to give the impression of a prosperous city where nature and humans live in harmony. It is worth noting that a meditation hall and a monk appear on the Lesser Yingzhou Isle (panel 5), which corresponds to the commissioner’s Buddhist belief.
The tribute suggests that the commissioner of the piece, Su Shuangde is not an official but a wealthy civilian, probably a businessman or landowner.
It is beyond us common people to tell (Buddha’s) great virtue of protecting all our lives. Since telling is difficult, can repaying His kindness be any easier? Difficult as it is to repay our debts of gratitude, we shall not feel upset as long as our deeds are sincere, though never enough. This screen, as our most genuine offering, is like wild-vegetable-picking songs in “Airs of the States”, or ballads about reeds and streams in “Major Court Hymns”, which seem trivial but convey important doctrines on loyalty and integrity.
On an auspicious day in mid-Apricot Month (lunar February), the thirteenth year of the Kangxi Reign, Qing Dynasty (March 1647 in Gregorian calendar)
Offered with high esteem by Shravaka (Buddhist disciple) Su Shuangde along with his son Su Heng and grandsons Su Zhaorui and Su Zhaoxiong
The borders of the screen are ornamented with two narrow bands of dragon (front side) and lotus patterns (back side), in combination with the shou (longevity) character (back side), between which the ‘Hundred Antiques’ (or ‘Hundred Treasures’) are shown.
The ‘Hundred Antiques’ is a collection of emblematic forms that include antiquities, scholar’s objects, and representations of sacrificial vessels and three-dimensional decorative arts of all types. This pattern becomes popular during the seventeenth century, and many of the symbolic objects are rebuses for auspicious wishes. For example the shell of a crab, pronounced jia, also means ‘first place’, and the tripod symbolizes filial piety. The pair of swords are a symbol of wisdom, penetrating insight, victory over evil, superhuman power, and also the emblem of Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals. The elephant-shaped teapot stands for tranquillity; and the fruits mean prosperity and fertility.