Ma Shouzhen | govt.chinadaily.com.cn

Female painters in late imperial era

Ma Shouzhen

Updated: Mar 5, 2020 govt.chinadaily.com.cn Print

Ma Shouzhen (1548-1604), a native of Nanjing in East China’s Jiangsu province, was clever, astute and generous. Her aptitude for painting and poetry, and her cherishing of righteousness over wealth, made her one of the most famous songstresses in the Jiangnan region (the area to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River).

She particularly excelled at painting orchids. Traditionally orchids are metaphoric of noble minds, and so were a fitting subject for Ma. They were to her paragons of beauty, and depicting them became her means of self-expression. At the same time, painting orchids also expanded her social network as she made friends with her work’s admirers. Therefore she did not pay much attention to sketching likeness or detailed texture, but focused on capturing the orchid’s inner spirit so as to express her unsullied appreciation of what the flower had brought her.

Painting of orchid, bamboo, and narcissus by Ma Shouzhen [Photo/dpm.org.cn]

Orchid, Bamboo, and Narcissus
Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 83.5×47.2 cm
Collection of the Palace Museum
View high-resolution image: www.dpm.org.cn/collection/paint/232861.html

Fan face depicting orchid, bamboo, and rocks painted by Ma Shouzhen in 1594 [Photo/dpm.org.cn]

Orchid, Bamboo, and Rocks
Dated 1594
Fan face, ink on golden paper, 17.8×49.8 cm
Collection of the Palace Museum
View high-resolution image: www.dpm.org.cn/collection/paint/233940.html

Fan face depicting orchid and bamboo painted by Ma Shouzhen in 1603 [Photo/dpm.org.cn]

Orchid and Bamboo
Dated 1603
Fan face, ink on paper, 17.8×48.2 cm
Collection of the Palace Museum
View high-resolution image: www.dpm.org.cn/collection/paint/234019.html

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