The Spring Festival in Ancient Chinese Paintings

    Written by: Yan Ziyun
    Posted on: January 26, 2017 | Post your comment here Comments | 中文

    'Peaceful Spring Market' - Ding Guanpeng (source - Chinese Portal) - The Spring Festival in Ancient Chinese Paintings

    'Peaceful Spring Market' - Ding Guanpeng (source - Chinese Portal)

    The Spring Festival, also known as "Turnover of the Year", "Chinese New Year", “The Day of the Very Beginning” or “The Beginning of the Year", is the most formally celebrated traditional festival of the Chinese people. It gets a top ranking among all traditional festivals in China in terms of grandeur and festivity.

    The Spring Festival has a history of more than 4,000 years. Over the centuries, it has developed into a colorful annual celebration in China, as described in literature and painting works. In this issue, we will delve into the ancient customs of the festival by exploring some ancient Chinese paintings.

    Watching Lanterns      

    Li Song (Southern Song Dynasty 1127-1279 AD)

    This typical festival painting depicts the folk customs of the Spring Festival. Li Song was good at expressing his feelings and attitude towards life in his paintings. Watching lanterns is the theme of entertainment activities at the Lantern Festival, which originated in the Han Dynasty, was developed in the Sui Dynasty and witnessed its rise in the Song dynasty. The Lantern Festival in Song Dynasty was the most bustling, enjoyable and romantic holiday, as it was cherished and expressed by many poets of the time with strong emotion.

    The Spring Festival in Ancient Chinese Paintings

    These paintings depict the folk customs during the Spring Festival in ancient Tang Dynasty (source - China Daily)

    Emperor Xianzong’s Tour of the Lantern Festival 

    Anonymous painter (Ming Dynasty 1368-1644 AD)

    This painting was painted on a piece of tough silk, 37 cm wide and 624 cm long, depicting Zhu Jianshen, Emperor Xianzong of Ming Dynasty, enjoying a lantern show and performance in his royal garden. A grand scene was presented with rigorous composition and fine brushwork. Viewing the long painting, one can see clearly the vivid images of magnificent palaces, courtyards, the emperor, many beauties in costumes and other people. It looks complex with so many figures, but all of them are well-proportioned rather than chaotic.

    The performance depicted in the painting is also brilliant, including comedians’ miscellaneous play, juggling, street vendors, lanterns and firecrackers; and some images of archery, kicking Ju, polo, Chui-Wan, Touhu and a series of games; even houses of ordinary people downtown were recreated to act as markets and streets, showing a stream of wandering citizens.

    Colorful Lantern Show at the Lantern Festival  

    Painter anonymous (Ming Dynasty)

    This painting, 2 meters long and 0.26 meters high, depicts a spectacular scene of the Lantern Festival in front of a Confucius Temple in Nanjing during the Ming Dynasty. It focuses on the life of the literati in front of the gate of Confucius temple, which was an antique market since ancient times. The picture mainly concentrates on the life of Chinese literati, which includes a gallery and storytellers. It shows that these intellectuals have started to plant daffodils, buy rockery, pebbles (colorful fine-grained pebbles found in Yuhuatai Area in Nanjing), and keep goldfish, plum, or orchid.

    Tai Ping Spring Market     

    by Ding Guanpeng (Qing Dynasty)

    This is a roll of painting that describes a lively celebration of the Lantern Festival in rural areas, including the scene of fireworks, Taiping Drums, fruits on sale, a monkey trick show, and an artists’ performance. It can be seen in the painting that some literati under pine trees are enjoying their tea while chatting, and some bowls with which porters hold desserts are decorated with blue and white dragons, which were typical during the time of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing.

    Festivals in 12 Lunar Months – Emperor Yong Zheng Went to the Old Summer Palace to Enjoy the Lantern Show in Lunar January     

    by Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shi-ning, 1688-1766, Qing Dynasty)

    The Spring Festival in Ancient Chinese Paintings

    The Qianlong Emperor in Ceremonial Armour on Horseback, by Giuseppe Castiglione (source - Wikimedia)

    Giuseppe Castiglione (Chinese name ‘Lang Shi-ning’) was an Italian missionary and painter who came to Qing China in 1715 and served the Qing Court for more than 50 years. These series of paintings show the daily life of Emperor Yong Zheng (the fifth emperor of Qing Dynasty). The paintings reflect the images and events of the emperor in the sequence of 12 lunar months from spring to winter, displaying various scenes of Royal life in the Old Summer Palace, as well as different customs in various festivals. They mainly depict landscape and pavilions, including delicate images of Chinese gardening, Western pavilions and terraces.

    Festivals in 12 Lunar Months – Watching Lantern Show in Lunar January

    by Tang Dai, Ding Guanpeng (Qing Dynasty)     

    This painting shows a carnival on the Lantern Festival night. In the painting we find that all the places are decorated with lanterns and crowded with some people lighting fireworks, and others drinking and enjoying the beauty of the lanterns; children are also seen playing under the frame of the lanterns. The whole painting vividly displays the festive scenes of the time. 

    Emperor Qianlong’s Tour in the Morning of a New Year

    by Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shi-ning), Shen Yuan, Zhou Kun and Ding Guanpeng (Qing Dynasty)

    The Spring Festival in Ancient Chinese Paintings

    Yang Xu, Wan Shi Ru Yi

    This painting was co-painted by Giuseppe Castiglione and three Chinese painters of the Qing time. Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shi-ning), who was good at painting portraits, painted Emperor Qianlong. Three Chinese painters painted the children (of the Qing Royal Family), houses and trees. This painting is a successful blend of artistic work combining Chinese and western painting skills, under the emperor’s power, not only displaying the Royal life on a festive and peaceful New Year’s day, but also showing the warm family relations between Emperor Qian Long and his princes.

    Good Luck with Everything

    by Xu Yang (Qing Dynasty)

    Xu Yang was skilled at painting portraits, landscape, plants, birds, and insects. Learning from the famous Song Dynasty painting "Riverside Scene on Qingming Festival", he applied the skill of scattering perspective to paint the city’s landscape in a realistic way. His historical works include "Emperor Qianlong Inspecting the South" and "Coming of the Flourishing Age”. His other works which exist today are "Beijing Spring Poetic Scenes" and "Wang Xizhi Copying Trading the Sutra for Geese", etc.

    Bustling Spring Festival     

    by Leng Mu (Qing Dynasty)

    This painting depicts the Spring Festival celebration scene of a big family in the courtyard. There are various figures in the painting, and the most important one is an official sitting in a chair surrounded by some women, children and servants. What is interesting is that the painter focuses on portraying the manners and expressions of the figures celebrating the Spring Festival with elegant colors.

    Celebration on the First Day of Spring Festival   

    by Yao Wenhan (Qing Dynasty)

    The Spring Festival in Ancient Chinese Paintings

    Wenhan Yao, Suizhao Huanqing Tu

    The painting depicts a scene of a family reunion to celebrate the Spring Festival. The host is seen sitting in the living room while his children are playing gongs, drums, clappers, and Sheng (a reed pipe wind instrument), and setting off firecrackers. There are also some servants standing aside, holding a wine kettle, or fetching dim sum or fruits between the hall and cloisters. In the middle of the hall, there is a brazier with pine tree branches and sesame straw burning in it. A four-season flower screen stands indoors, and on the red tea table stands a vase painted with images of peonies. All this depicts an atmosphere of a wealthy and noble family enjoying the festival.

    Children Playing at the Lantern Festival  

    by Zhao Zhichen, Guzou (Qing Dynasty)

    This painting shows children playing gongs and drums to celebrate the Lantern Festival, depicting the typical folk customs of the festival in the Qing time.

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