85 stars that light up the heavens

Updated 2018-09-15 09:42:01

New painting and calligraphy galleries in Liaoning Provincial Museum have lifted the veil on dozens of rarely seen national treasures

There are just 85 stars up there, but my how they shine!

Those stars, Chinese paintings on display in a new section of the Liaoning Provincial Museum in Shenyang, were selected to present a concise history of Chinese fine art as the extensions were officially opened on Aug 17.

"The exhibits include not only the most precious ones in the early stages of Chinese paintings such as in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), but also those of different schools of literati painting in more recent periods," says Yang Yong, curator of the exhibition.

"What we wanted was a panorama."

Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowersby Tang Dynasty artist Zhou Fang

One of the most celebrated is Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers, a masterpiece that will take many viewers back to their childhood, when they would have seen the picture in school textbooks. In more recent years it gained global recognition when it was given a role in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.

"You can see just how elegant these ladies were," Yang says. "They wore filmy long dresses that dragged along the floor, and there were flowers on their aristocratic chignons."

The women are accompanied by two small dogs.

The 1.8-meter-long painting on a silk scroll is commonly attributed to the Tang Dynasty artist Zhou Fang. It is widely regarded as one of the most important surviving ancient Chinese paintings and as a reference point for studying the Tang Dynasty, an apogee of social development in ancient China.

"Who had painted this work long remained a mystery until it was finally credited to Zhou relatively recently," Yang says. "Still, this painting exudes an aura that bears the unmistakable signs of the exquisite Tang Dynasty technique of painting."

The painting has been remounted many times, Yang says, and during the most recent of these, in the 1970s, it was realized that the work consisted of several connected parts. The dogs, for example, were painted on a separate piece of silk. This strongly suggests the painting was originally used on a folding screen rather than a scroll, he says.

While Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers takes pride of place in the Liaoning exhibition, the 38 other stars do their utmost in vying for attention, one of the most prominent among these being the 6.46-meter-long Nymph of the Luo River.

A Northern Song Dynasty (9601127)facsimile of fourth century master of fine art Gu Kaizhi’s Nymph of the Luo River

The original scroll by the fourth century master of fine art Gu Kaizhi, based on a well-known piece of poem-prose about romance with the same title from the Three Kingdoms period (220-280), is the earliest known Chinese painting that narrates a story. However, it was lost to history.

The one on display in Shenyang is a Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) facsimile, Yang says, one of the two best facsimiles that survives, the other being in the Palace Museum in Beijing.

"This facsimile faithfully represents the spirit and artistic style of Gu Kaizhi's time," Yang says. "The goddess in bright colors is of noble vintage."

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