Female painters in late imperial era

Xue Susu

Updated: Mar 5, 2020 Print
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The acclaimed songstress Xue Susu was widely admired for her elegant demeanor and artistic accomplishments. A native of Suzhou in East China’s Jiangsu province and active during the reign of Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620), she was well versed in music, chess, calligraphy, and painting. She had a knack for shooting a bow while riding a horse, and gave herself the moniker “the heroine”.

Xue had a difficult life and married multiple times. Her first two marriages, as a concubine, were not satisfactory (polygamy in imperial China was allowed). She winded up as the concubine of Yuan Weizhi, a merchant who was wealthy, but still of low rank, in a society dominated by Confucianism. With her identity shifting from a songstress to that of a married woman, the subject matters that she explored changed. She was no longer enthusiastic about orchids and bamboo, but about landscape and portraits. Therefore, she expanded her repertoire.

The only extant landscape painting by Xue Susu [Photo/]

Passing the Bridge over a Stream
Dated 1614
Fan face, ink on golden paper, 15.5×48.2 cm
Collection of the Palace Museum

The painting, full of literati style, is the only extant landscape painting by Xue.

Fan face depicting cymbidium painted by Xue Susu. Collection of the Palace Museum [Photo/]

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