Admonitions Scroll


  • 1. The Admonitions Scroll

    1. The Admonitions Scroll


The Admonitions scroll is an early Chinese painting that for conservation reasons can only be displayed for short periods.

It will be next on view:


30 October - 12 November


12 - 25 February
23 July - 12 August
5 - 25 November

Confirmed dates for 2016

4 - 18 February
21 July - 10 August

Displayed in Room 91a

Admonitions Scroll

China, 6th-8th century AD

The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies (The Admonitions Scroll). Traditionally attributed to Gu Kaizhi (c. 344–406). Painting on silk with ink and colours, China. A work of the 6th to 7th century.

It illustrates a political parody written by Zhang Hua (about AD 232-300). The parody takes a moralizing tone, attacking the excessive behaviour of an empress. The protagonist is the court instructress who guides the ladies of the imperial harem on correct behaviour.

In total, nine scenes were depicted on this scroll, but it is now incomplete; the first two scenes are missing, as well as the text to the first scene.

None of Gu Kaizhi's original works has survived, but he has still acquired a legendary status, both as a painter and as a writer on Chinese painting. He was given extensive coverage in the dynastic histories and the seminal text on painting, Li-dai ming-hua ji written by Zhang Yanyuan (about AD 847).

Gu Kaizhi's reputation was probably helped by anecdotes about his eccentricity; he was said to have been perfect in 'painting, literary composition and foolishness'.

This painting has been executed in a fine linear style that is typical of fourth-century figure painting. Similar pictorial motifs have been discovered in contemporary tombs. Texts describe Gu Kaizhi as having painted in this manner. The inscriptions and seals on this scroll date back to the eighth century.

Before its arrival at the British Museum in 1903, the scroll passed through many hands. The history of the painting can be ascertained through the seals and inscriptions, beginning with the eighth-century seal of the Hongwen guan, a division of the Han-lin Academy.

The painting was subsequently in the collections of well-known connoisseurs who added their own seals and inscriptions, before ending up in the imperial collection during the reign of the Qianlong emperor (1736-96).

Imperial China


Imperial Chinese history is marked by the rise and fall of many dynasties.

Imperial China world culture

Tang dynasty

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Object details

Tang dynasty

Height: 24.37 cm
Width: 343.75 cm


Asia OA 1903.4-8.1 (Chinese Painting 1)





    A. Farrer, The brush dances and the ink sings: Chinese paintings and calligraphy from the British Museum (Hayward Gallery, London, 1990)

    K. Suzuki (ed.), Comprehensive illustrated catalogue of Chinese painting (University of Tokyo Press, 1982)

    J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chinese art (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

    B. Gray, Admonitions of the instructress (London, The British Museum Press, 1966)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    M.A. Lewis, China between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties. (Boston, 2009)

    M.A. Lewis, China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty (Boston, 2009)

    S. McCausland, First Masterpiece of Chinese Painting: The Admonitions Scroll (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

    S. McCausland (ed.), Gu Kaizhi and the Admonitions Scroll (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

    R.M. Barnhart, Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2002)

    O. Zhongshi, Chinese Calligraphy (New Haven,  Yale University Press, 2008)

    P. Ebrey, The Cambridge Illustrated History of China (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999)