The Lotus Palace: Researching Artwork to Make an Era Come Alive
BY JEANNIE LIN
Researching an ancient culture isn’t always about reading academic articles and translations. For my Tang Dynasty historical romances and especially for THE LOTUS PALACE, I spend time reflecting on the artwork of the culture in order to recreate a sense of beauty and elegance that resonates within these pieces.
For instance, it’s often mentioned in academic writings that the women of the Tang Dynasty enjoyed more freedom than other eras. They are often depicted riding on horseback and even in sculptures playing polo.
Spring Outing of the Tang Court by Zhang Xuan
I’ve mentioned before that I read translations of Tang Dynasty poetry in one part to get inspiration, but in another part to learn what sort of word choices and devices translators use to recreate the language of the Tang Dynasty. In this post, I wanted to concentrate on paintings.
We can see the Tang Dynasty emphasis on fashion and style in “Beauties Wearing Flowers” by Zhou Fang which depicts two women in full elaborate court dress playing with a dog.
Beauties Wearing Flowers by Zhou Fang
THE LOTUS PALACE takes place in the imperial capital of Changan and centers around the pleasure quarter where many scholars and artists congregated. Researching the paintings and murals that have survived from that time serves multiple purposes:
1) The paintings help me recreate the look and feel of the period based on the costumes and activities depicted in the paintings.
2) The paintings give me a sense of what people in the Tang Dynasty, at least the elite of society, enjoyed as art and considered beautiful.
3) Since I often describe paintings and other visual objects within parlors and studies, seeing the works helps give me a point of reference for those descriptions.
This famous painting by Gu Hongzhong was actually done in the 10th century, in the period following the Tang Dynasty. The original was lost and the painting only survives from a recreation of it done in the Song Dynasty, three hundred years later. The painting, titled “The Night Revels of Han Xizai”, follows a minister through a night of revelry. Since The Lotus Palace featured gatherings where courtesans entertained upper class patrons, this painting was a wonderful reference point for what those gatherings might look like.
The painting consisted of five panels in one very long scroll. It’s split in half here. Can’t you just imagine the music playing, wine being poured and all of the confidential little secrets that must have been shared in the wee hours of the night?
I certainly can.
THE LOTUS PALACE, a historical romance and murder mystery set in the Tang Dynasty, is available now in print or ebook.
When a famous courtesan is murdered, a clever maidservant teams up with the notorious playboy and failed scholar of the Pingkang li to solve the crime, but can they defy the bonds of class and culture to find love and happiness?
FREE READ! You can also get a peek into the pleasure quarter in the introductory short novella, CAPTURING THE SILKEN THIEF. Free from 8/25 to 9/7 on Amazon and B&N.
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