Word into Art, £16.99
Height: 41.500 cm
Width: 27.000 cm
Donated by Sotheby's, 1949
Gengzhi tu, 'Pictures of Tilling and Weaving', hand-coloured woodblock prints
The original Gengzhi tu was compiled by Lou Shou (1090-1162) during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It was first published around 1237 and contained 45 illustrations - 21 scenes of tilling and 24 on the cultivation of rice - accompanied by poems. The depiction of agricultural and sericulture scenes was seen both as a reference to practical farming and as a metaphor for a well-ordered Confucian society.
Many subsequent emperors produced new editions of these illustrations. The British Museum's edition was commissioned by the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722) and produced in 1696 by the court painter Jiao Bingzhen. It is also known as the Yuzhi (imperial) Gengzhi tu, which refers to the emperor's sponsorship of the work as well as his contribution to it.
Above each illustration are seven character quatrains (poems) that were originally thought to have been composed and written by the emperor. It is now generally thought that they were composed by scholars at court and written in imitation of the Emperor's style of hand-writing.
Jiao Bingzhen was employed in the Imperial Board of Astronomy. He was one of the first Chinese artists to study Western perspective under European missionary artists also serving on the board. Their influence is evident in his illustrative work.
It is not known whether Jiao ever saw the original Song Dynasty Gengzhi tu illustrations. But he may have seen a Chinese Ming (1368-1644) edition based on a Song original preserved in Japan, where it was reprinted in 1676.
J. Rawson, Chinese jade: from the Neolith (London, The British Museum Press, 1995, reprinted 2002)
J. Needham, Science and Civilization in Ch (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1965)
S. Edgren, Chinese rare books in American (China House Gallery, China Institute in America, 1984)