This talk is a rare opportunity to see an important work of art that dates to the Qianlong era, a scroll that has been seldom seen in public.
Two ink rubbings scrolls of the Pictures of Tilling and Weaving (or Gengzhi Tu 耕織圖) which were commissioned by the Qianlong emperor (1735-1796) have been joyfully reunited in the Huaihai Tang collection in Hong Kong. The project consists of the monumental reproduction of forty-eight scenes of agrarian labour and text related to them carved into forty-eight stone stele. Once the stones were carved, paper could be laid across them and then tapped with sponges full of ink to generate a black and white “rubbed” copy. In the case of the Qianlong rubbings, only two copies are known to exist with the Huaihai Tang version the sole complete copy.
This talk, focusing on the Pictures of Weaving, which will be on display, outlines the story of their production. According to Confucian Classics, silk is a lustrous fabric of divine inspiration. Various goddesses, sages and emperors and wives of sages or emperors are credited with inventing the processes needed to weave it. In contrast to these canonical textual references, during the 12th century, the Pictures of Weaving were inaugurated, designed to showcase the much more mundane steps undertaken by farming women in the manufacturing of bolts of silk. In the Qing era this genre experienced a vigorous revival stimulated by imperial patronage. This presentation introduces the implications of silk fabric within the history of China to then explore Qianlong’s motivations to commission paintings related to silk and its production. The talk concludes with a brief account of the provenance of the scroll, complete with a viewing of the scroll.
Dr. Roslyn Hammers is an Associate Professor of art history in the Department of Fine Arts at The University of Hong Kong. She teaches courses on Chinese painting, South Asian art, and Asian architectural history. Her book entitled Pictures of Tilling and Weaving: Art, Labour and Technology in Song and Yuan China (Hong Kong University Press) was published in 2011. She is presently working on a study of Qing dynasty representations of agrarian labour.