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: The Chinese Emperor Minghuang and his concubine Yang Guifei, with attendants on a terrace

The Chinese Emperor Minghuang and his concubine Yang Guifei, with attendants on a terrace

Screen (six-panel)
Artist: Kanō Eitoku 狩野永徳 (1543 - 1590)
Historical period(s)
Muromachi or Momoyama period, 16th century
Ink, color, and gold on paper
156.7 x 360.6 cm
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
Few works of Chinese literature have so enthralled the Japanese people as The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, a narrative poem by the Chinese poet Bo Juyi (772–846) of the Tang dynasty (618–907). The poem recounts the tragic story of Emperor Xuanzong (reigned 712–56), commonly known as Minghuang, whose excessive love for his beautiful concubine, Yang Guifei (circa 720–56), led to intrigue at court and disorder in the empire. Yang Guifei was put to death in 756 during the An Lushan uprising. The passionate love and inconsolable grief portrayed in the Chinese poem found a sympathetic reception in the Japanese imperial court of the Heian period (794–1185), where the emotional entanglements of Japanese aristocrats became the theme of The Tale of Genji, an important work of narrative fiction written by a noblewoman, Murasaki Shikibu.

Many Japanese screen paintings of the Momoyama (1573–1615) and early Edo (1615–1868) periods illustrate the story of Minghuang and Yang Guifei with elegant figures in settings that represent an imaginative and idealized image of the Chinese emperor's household. Here the emperor and his beloved Yang Guifei stand in an open pavilion facing a garden where ladies-in-waiting pull threads attached to the branches of flowering trees. The enduring allure of this story in the Japanese visual and literary arts reflects both a strong emotional identification with its themes of love, death, and longing, and the persistent idea of Tang dynasty China as a cultural golden age.

To 1900
Yamanaka & Company, to 1900 [1]

From 1900 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Yamanaka & Company in 1900 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] Undated folder sheet note. See Original Screen List, L. 34, pg. 6, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. The majority of Charles Lang Freer’s purchases from Yamanaka & Company were made at its New York branch. Yamanaka & Company maintained branch offices, at various times, in Boston, Chicago, London, Peking, Shanghai, Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto. During the summer, the company also maintained seasonal locations in Newport, Bar Harbor, and Atlantic City.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Former owner
C.L. Freer source: Yamanaka and Co.
On View Location
Currently not on view
attendant, concubine, emperor, Japan, Momoyama period (1573 - 1615), Muromachi period (1333 - 1573)
Collection(s) Area
Japanese Art
Web Resource(s)
Google Cultural Institute

Rights Statement
Copyright with museum

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