This is an elegant and refreshing piece thanks to its refined and delicate stitches as well as the charming palette. The highlight of this work lies in the expressions of characters and the atmosphere it creates, constituting a captivating allure to the viewers.
The three principal characters are arranged in a triangular composition. The player of the zither is seated on a stone stool and attired in the Taoist fashion with yellow chignon tapes and black robe, plucking strings of the zither attentively. Among the three listeners, the one on the right is in a black gauze hat and a full-length vermilion robe, with one of his hands braced against the stone block on which he sits and the other holds a fan resting at his knee. His head is bowed as he listens intently, seemingly lost in reverie as he focuses on the sound of the zither. The man on the left is wearing a black gauze hat and a dark turquoise robe. His hands are laid one above the other on his lap, and his head is tilted upwards as if looking at something, seemingly list in his memory triggered by the music. At his side is a fluffy-haired boy servant, with arms crossed against his chest, attentively watching the protagonist from afar, listening carefully. Three listeners, with three different expressions, all captured in an uncannily lifelike fashion by the artisan.
Behind the protagonist stands an ivy-surrounded pine tree whose needles are hardly luxuriant, yet its towering presence is so real that one can almost smell its pungent sap. There are several young stalks of bamboo under the pine, dripping blue-green and swaying in the wind. Apart rom the zither stand, there is a single high, narrow table supporting supporting an incense burner with smoke coiling above it. Directly opposite the zither player is a small and exquisite mountain rock, upon which sits a petite and ancient tripod complete with a blossoming branch. With no more adornments to the image except for the above-mentioned, the beauty of simplicity valued by the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) can be clearly sensed. It seems that, within the serenity, gentle tones emanating from the zither seem to merge with the breeze rustling through the pine needles and bamboo leaves. “Here and now”, implies the painting, “silence resounds louder than sound”.
On this painting created by Emperor Huizong Zhao Ji (1082-1135 AD) of the Song dynasty, there is also a poem inscribed by his minister, also a famous calligrapher Cai Jing (1047-1126 AD), which eulogizes the ingenious skills of the zither-player based on the story of the renowned “Tail-burnt Zither” (焦尾琴) in history, conveying the painter’s longing for “serenity, tranquility, harmony and eternity.