A replica of Zhang Xuan’s Dailin Tu (搗練圖) (The Picture of Pounding) possibly by Emperor Huizong (1082-1135) of Sony Dynasty, handscroll, ink, colour and gold on silk, 37.1 x 145 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The original painting, attributed to the Tang painter Zhang Xuan (張萱) (c713 – c755) was lost. The present painting, attributed to Emperor Huizong (宋徽宗) or his court artist is now kept in Museum of Fine Art, Boston, USA.

The painting was unsigned and undated but the scroll bears a label Tianshui mo Zhang Xuan Daolian Tu (天水摹張萱搗練圖 – Tianshui’s Replica of Zhang Xuan’s The Picture of Pounding). Tianshui is a reference to Huizong. The label was written in ‘slender gold’ script but might not be Huizong’s handwriting because if it was written by him, he would have put down the two characters ‘Yu ti (御題)’ meaning written by the Emperor. The painting was recorded in Xuanhe Painting Catalogue (宣和畫譜) – the inventory of Emperor Huizong’s collections.

The painting was originally stored in the Old Summer Garden in Beijing, which was sacked, looted and burned down during the invasion of the Anglo-French expeditionary forces in 1860 (火燒圓明園). The painting then fell into the hands of private collectors. In 1912, the masterpiece was purchased by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from a private collector in Beijing. The English title of the painting was later changed to ‘Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk‘.


A study of the painting

The painting portrays nine luxuriously adorned court ladies, two maids and a young girl working on newly woven silk in what is called ‘palace sericulture’ (gongcan 貢繭), an annual symbolic imperial rite to ensure a year’s plentiful production in silk.  They formed three groups with each engaging in a distinct task related to silk production: pounding, sewing and ironing.

(1) Pounding – beating the newly woven silk to make it finer and softer

Viewing from right, the first group of four ladies are pounding the silk with long wooden poles. They stand in a diamond-shaped formation to produce the illusion of a three-dimensional space.

Two court ladies work are synchronously pounding the silk while the other two are taking a break.

The artist applies bright, elegant colours to their dresses, which are richly detailed. Ladies in the painting wear breast-high ruqun (齊胸襦裙).

The court ladies are holding the middle of the long pole with their right hands and supporting the lower part of poles with their left hands, showing the weight of the poles. The front, sides and the back of their hair styles can be seen clearly.


This court lady looks a bit exhausted after pounding the silk and she is taking up her sleeve. She has long finger nails.


(2) Sewing

There are only two figures in the second part of the painting, one sitting on the ground preparing a fine thread and the other sewing while sitting on a stool. Their dresses and hairstyle were also beautifully painted.

The court lady on the right is preparing a fine thread and the lady on the left is sewing.


The court lady is preparing a fine thread. Despite the piece of fine silk being invisible, the orientation of the fingers on both hands allows us to envisage the presence of the fine thread.


The court lady is sewing. The orientations of her eye balls vividly demonstrated the concentration on her work.
(3) Ironing

Three court ladies are stretching and ironing a long piece of silk cloth. There are also two maids, one helping stretch the silk and the other fanning a charcoal stove for heating the iron. Also there is a young girl dressed in pink and playing around.

Again, the four figures stretching and ironing the silk are standing in a diamond-shaped formation to create a three-dimensional effect.

The girl playing under the silk adds vitality to the painting.


The girl fanning the fire turned away from the stove to avoid the heat. The hair style is two simple pig tails with the braids styled on the opposite sides of the head. The headpiece is simpler than those of the court ladies. The pose of the girl is not as elegant as those of the court ladies, showing a child’s simplicity and vigour. The tip of her shoes are pointed.
It is suggested that the style of the landscape painting on the round fan is characteristic of the Northern Song, lending further evidence that this is a replica done in the Song Dynasty.


The closeup image of the lady holding the hot iron shows the intricate patterns on her clothes. The headpieces are different from the others.
The iron is a simple device holding hot charcoal. The red colour on the charcoals indicates that they are extremely hot.


This court lady holding the stretched piece of silk tilted backward, showing her efforts in pulling the silk firmly.


This closeup image shows the elegant hair bun and the headpieces. In the middle of the forehead is a piece of green ornament. The eye brows have been plucked and tinted. The lip stain on the lip aims to make the lips look smaller.


The little girl has her two pig tails tied into two buns on each side of the face. The eyes look straight from the painting catching the attention of the viewers.


A study of the hairstyles and headpieces


A study of the colours and the patterns of the fabrics


A study of the hands


A study of the shoes


Tang Dynasty (618-907) is one of the dynasties in Chinese history when women has the most freedom and dignity. Such confidence also reflects on their clothing styles. Tang Dynasty clothing was lavish and brilliant, using bright colours and vibrant patterns. Women’s clothing show more skin than any other Dynasty, beaming with confidence and dignity.

People in the Tang Dynasty adored plump and chubby women instead of slender and slim ones. A plump woman symbolized her wealth and standing. All the figures in the painting are plump and round-faced.

The background is simple. No furniture except a simple stool is shown. The golden colour depicts the elegance of the court ladies.




Zhang Hongxing (2013) Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 – 1900, V & A Publishing, ISBN 978-1-851-77756-3

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/fb/01/fa/fb01faeef8aafc3518b5a1de7d34d799.jpg  (long scroll image)

http://changan-moon.tumblr.com/post/112073733903/%E6%8D%A3%E7%BB%83%E5%9B%BE-%E5%94%90%E4%BB%A3%E5%BC%A0%E8%90%B1dao-lian-tuby-zhang-xuan-in-tang (images)