The original upon which this work is based, by Chang Tse-tuan (active early 12th century), is a masterful unfolding of Sung dynasty life and customs at the capital of Pien (K"ai-feng) in a long handscroll format. This theme, popular in the Northern Sung (960-1126), has been copied often throughout the ages. There are seven versions alone in the National Palace Museum, and this one by court painters of the imperial painting academy under the Ch"ien-lung Emperor (reigned 1736-1795) is one of the most famous. Each version reflects not only the painting style but also life and appearances of the period it was made.
This version represents a collaboration by five court painters (Ch"en Mei, Sun Hu, Chih K"un, Tai Hung, and Ch"en Chih-tao) and was finished in 1736. It can be said to be a copy that combines the style and features of previous versions along with unique customs of the Ming and Ch"ing, such as the forms of entertainment popular at the time. The lively activities include a theatrical performance, monkey show, acrobatics, and a martial arts ring to lend a festive air to the scenery.
Brilliantly colored and characterized by sure, fine brushwork, this represents a fine example of Ch"ing court painting. Although this handscroll has lost much of the archaic feel of the Sung dynasty version, it is a valuable source of information for late Ming and early Ch"ing life and customs. The style also reflects the influence of Western painting techniques, popular at the court then. The buildings and streets, for example, were rendered with Western-style perspective, and even some Western-influenced architecture appears. The bridge and buildings are depicted in the ruled-line method ("chieh-hua"), and the figures are also exquisitely detailed.
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