Zoom Into 'A Palace Concert'

Twelve ladies of the court have gathered around a table to enjoy a relaxed "concert." Four musicians at the far end of the table are playing the flute, lute, zither, and panpipes to the rhythmic sound of clappers played by the woman standing to the left.

A Palace Concert (AD 618-AD 907) by AnonymousNational Palace Museum

The painting is attributed to the late Tang, since it exhibits certain features characteristic of the period. For example, the women are of plumpness requisite to contemporary standards of beauty, which also dictated the application of white facial powder on the forehead nose, and chin. The ladies' elaborately coiffed hair and their style of clothing, as well as the overall color scheme of the painting, also suggest that this is a late Tang work.

The woven bamboo-top table, cusped crescent stools, winged wine cups, and the way the lute is being played with a large pick all accord with late Tang customs.

This painting is rather short for a hanging scroll and may have originally been mounted as part of a small screen that was later remounted into the format we see today. There is no seal or signature of the artist on the work, but it appears to have come from the hand of an artist influenced by the styles of Chang Hsuan (first half of 8th c.) and Chou Fang (ca. 730-800).

The painting depicts ten ladies of the women’s quarters from the inner palace.

They are seated around the sides of a large rectangular table served with tea as someone is also drinking wine.

The four figures at the top are playing a Tartar double-reed pipe, pipa, guqin zither, and reed pipe, bringing festivity to the figures enjoying their banquet.

To the left is a female attendant holding a clapper that she uses to keep rhythm.

Judging from their expressions, the melodic and elegant music almost seems to intoxicate the figures.

Even the small dog under the table appears undisturbed.

Though the painting describes a scene of music and drinking, there seems to be sense of resignation on the faces of the women, as if this is just an ordinary day in the life of court women.

Tang Dynasty Fashion

Although the painting has no signature of the artist, the plump features of the figures along with the painting method for the hair and clothing all accord with the aesthetic fashions of Tang dynasty ladies. 

The fashion for beauty among ladies during the Yuan-ho era (806-819) reflected the strong influence of Yang Kuei-fei (719-756), whose full form set a standard.

The ladies here are shown with full figures, rounded faces, delicate eyebrows, white makeup, long-sleeved robes, draping silks, and high skirts.

Four women along with the one playing the pipa all have their hair tied in an unusual manner known as a “drop-horse knot”.

One of the women also wears a floral crown, signifying higher status.

Both court ladies and female attendants are shown with their hair tied arranged with combs and pins...

...which was immortalized in the poetry of Wen Ting-yun (ca. 813-866) as adorned “mountains” and “clouds”.

Credits: Story

National Palace Museum

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