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Nüshi zhen tu 女史箴图 (Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies) / The Admonitions Scroll

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Nüshi zhen tu 女史箴图 (Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies)
    • The Admonitions Scroll
  • Description

    Handscroll painting in nine scenes (originally twelve) illustrating the 'Nüshi zhen' (Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies), a text composed by Zhang Hua (c. AD 232-300). It bears many seals and long colophons in the hands of the Huizong and Qianlong emperors (an exterior label was possibly written by the Qianlong emperor too). At the beginning is a fragment of Song dynasty 'kesi' tapestry-woven silk from an old mounting of the handscroll, depicting peonies, followed by a large three-character inscription. The scroll consists of quotations from the text by Zhang Hua, followed in each case by figure illustrations without any background or at most slight suggestions of setting. At the end of the handscroll was a landscape painting depicting trees by Zou Yigui (now mounted separately [see BM 1903.0408.01b]). Made of ink and colours on silk.
    Scene seven, for example, shows a court lady advancing towards the Emperor, who repulses her with a gesture of his raised hand. The drapery is portrayed with long, continuous, even brushstrokes; movement is shown through the vitality of the swirling draperies, a continuation of Han dynasty traditions. The facial expressions of the figures have advanced beyond the generalised types of Han figures; the characterisation of facial expression is here closer to portraiture, displaying individual character and emotion.
    Another scene shows a court concubine at her toilet with a maid. The concubie wears a long-sleeved wrapover robe while the maid has a separate skirt and wrapover top, and an elaborate hair ornament. A bronze mirror can be seen in use on a lacquered wood stand, as well as lacquered toilet boxes. The large lacquer box lid is inlaid with silver.


  • Producer name

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 6thC-8thC
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 343.75 centimetres
    • Height: 24.37 centimetres
    • Height: 26 centimetres (brocade wrapper)
    • Width: 24.6 centimetres (brocade wrapper)
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Translation

        The label in Qianlong's calligraphy reads: "Gu Kaizhi's picture of the Admonitions of the Instructress, with text. Authentic relic. A treasure of divine quality belonging to the Inner Palace."
      • Inscription Comment

        The painting bears many seals including that of the Qianlong emperor. As well as there is a colophon by him.
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        external label
      • Inscription Language

  • Curator's comments

    This painting is now often considered to be a work of the fifth to early seventh century . It lacks three of the twelve original narrative registers (these are preserved in the Song dynasty copy of the painting now in the National Palace Museum in Beijing, see Wen Wu 1961, no. 6, pp. 7-12 for these images [jrk 27/4/00]).
    Three facsimiles of this object have been made: in 1912 a colour woodprint by Sugizaki Hideaki and Urushibara Yoshijiro with a text by Lawrence Binyon (registered as 1913.7-8.01); in 1925 a monochrome collotype, made in Japan under the supervision of Prof. Fukui Kichijiro of Sendai University; and in 1966 a colour collotype facsimile by Benrido of Japan, with a text by Basil Gray. See Basil Gray, 'Admonitions' etc., 1966, for translations (after Waley 1923 and 1964) of the inscriptions and its mount and exterior label.

    Wen Wu 1961, no.6, pp.7-12.
    Waley 1923.
    Shimbi Taikan no.xiv.
    Taki Seiichi, 'Ku K'ai-chih's Illustration of the Poem of Lo-shen' Kokka, 253 (June 1911).
    Taki Seiichi, "Eikoku Hakubutsukan Ko Gaishi no Joshi shin zukan" [Gu Kaizhi's 'Admonitions of the Court Instructress picture scroll in the British Museum], Kokka, 287 (April 1914), pp. 259-65.
    Also published in Michaelson, 'Chinese Art in Detail' (BMP, 2006), p. 94 ('The toilette scene') and p. 96 ('The rejection scene').Rawson 1992:
    This is the finest extant work attributed to Gu Kaizhi and one of the two versions of this theme (the other is in the Palace Museum, Beijing). Gu Kaizhi, a native of Wuxi in Jiangsu province, gained a reputation as a painter at the Jin court in Nanjing. He was famous for his portraits and figures, but he also painted landscapes. A number of important paintings are attributed to him, but they were not associated to him in texts until the Song dynasty, so the relationship to him is tenous.
    The handscroll 'The Admonitions of the Court Instructress' illustrates a moralising text by Zhang Hua (AD 232-300) which discusses the correct behaviour of ladies of the imperial harem. Didactic works of this kind continued to be produced into the Southern Song (1127-1279).
    The panel of peony flowers that was used as a wrapping for the painting is one of the most elaborate examples of 'kesi' silk tapestry. Tapestry, known in Chinese as 'kesi', made its first appearance in China in the Tang dynasty like many other Western weft-faced weaves. Tapestry is very adaptable and, like embroidery, can be used for large-scale designs without repeats. In China it was particularly associated with the use of gold thread, principally in the form of gilded paper: either cut strips woven in flat, or strips wound around a silk core. 'Kesi' was to become the most highly prized of all Chinese silk textiles, and later in China it was developed into a major art form used for large pictures, chair covers and temple hangings as well as for album leaves and scroll mounts.


  • Bibliography

    • Binyon 1916 bibliographic details
    • McCausland 2003 bibliographic details
    • MacGregor 2010 39 bibliographic details
    • Suzuki 1982 E15-260 and E15-261 bibliographic details
    • Rawson 1992 figures 65 and 121 bibliographic details
    • Wang 2012a pp.102-103, fig.6 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G91a

  • Exhibition history

    Open eight weeks a year. Next open displays are:
    2017: 26-29 January, 23 February-15 March, 20 July-16 August

    2016: 4-18 February, 21 July-10 August, 3-23 November
    2015: 5-25 November
    2014: 3 April-31 August. BM Gallery 91, 'Gems of Chinese painting: a voyage along the Yangzi River'.
    2010-2011: London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'.
    2008: 10 January-5 August. BM Galleries 91, Fascination With Nature.
    2007: 8 February-5 August. BM Gallery 91, 'Gods, Guardians and Immortals: Chinese Religious Paintings'.

  • Condition

    Good, handscroll mounted (in 1914-15) on flat panel in two sections: one the colophons and inscriptions and the other the main painting. The landscape with trees by Zou Yigui, once part of the ensemble mounted as a handscroll, is now separately mounted flat on card.

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Once part of the Chinese imperial collection.

  • Department


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Ch.Ptg.1 (Chinese Painting Number)
Handscroll painting ink and colours on silk in nine scenes (originally eleven) illustrating the Nushi zhen (Admonitions of the Instructress of the Ladies in the Palace), a text composed by Zhang Hua (c AD 232-300). It bears many seals and long colophons i

Handscroll painting ink and colours on silk in nine scenes (originally eleven) illustrating the Nushi zhen (Admonitions of the Instructress of the Ladies in the Palace), a text composed by Zhang Hua (c AD 232-300). It bears many seals and long colophons i

Image description



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