A Blue Ground Print from Yangliuqing

David LeffmanUncategorized Leave a Comment

Here’s a “Blue Ground” or qingdi print (青地年画) from Yangliuqing showing the master strategist Kongming, aka Zhuge Liang, from the historical novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. A roundel above contains a generalised lanscape with figures, with a pair of crickets (feeding on some fruit) below. I especially like the crickets.

Crickets, often representing abundance and wealth but possibly just decorative in this case. Not sure whether these are wodblock-printed or die stamped, as the paint is unusually thick and opaque for a Chinese print, to show up against the dark background.

As with most Yangliuqing prints, the outlines have been woodblock printed, but other colours – and the fine details of the faces – have been painted on by hand. The sandy-brown areas contain metal powder, perhaps gold, in glue.

Sparkly gold powder and fine facial details

This print is one of seven bought at auction. Two show vases full of flowers (chrysanthemums in one, magnolias in the other, most likely from a set of four representing the four seasons); three others also depict characters from the Three Kingdoms (complete with roundel and insects as above); while one is of a fisherman and a young boy.

Magnolia (and orchids in the yin-yang pot?), representing Spring

Like Kongming, the human figures are named in the other prints too: 孫夫人 and her maid from the episode 龙凤配, “Dragon and Phoenix Unite”, when Kongming throws a banquet to celebrate the marriage of Liu Bei and Madame Sun; the loyal general Zhao Zilong, aka Zhao Yun (趙雲); and the brave but duplicitous Lu Bu (吕布). The fisherman print is titled, but the characters are illegible.

These qingdi (dark blue ground) prints are extremely rare, and most are of flowers. The only reference I can find to similar examples showing people are some collected by Vasily Mikhaylovich Alexeev around 1907, also illustrating characters from the Three Kingdoms.

With thanks to Christer von der Burg and Dr. Jiang Yanwen

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