Miscellaneous Studies. Artist: Chen Hongshou (Chinese, 1598-1652). Culture: China. Dimensions: Image (each leaf): 7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm). Date: one leaf dated 1619.
This album plays on the theme of reality versus illusion. The moon is reflected in a basin of water, a flower is next to its image in a mirror, and a butterfly is attracted to chrysanthemums painted on a silk fan. Chen emphasized the multiple levels of his artifice on this album leaf by incorporating his signature within the composition of the fan painting and by screening one wing of the butterfly with the fan, forcing us to view the insect through the painting as well as through the medium of painting. Other artful manipulations are represented by a miniature potted garden, or penzai (bonsai, in Japanese), which shows how man can transform nature, and by a twig with worm-eaten leaves, which underscores how nature constantly transforms itself.
There is no precedent for these symbolic still-life subjects in scholar painting. Instead, these highly sophisticated images, which relate to the ornamental designs found on deluxe crafts of the time, including molded ink cakes, printed stationery, and the carved decoration of Yixing ceramics, reflect Chen Hongshou's early involvement in creating woodblock illustrations for novels and dramas. Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.