Lady Ban Holding a Round Fan (班姬團扇圖)

Tang Yin (唐寅,1470-1524), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, 150.4 x 63.6 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

       Beneath windmill palms stands a lady holding a silk fan with only hollyhock in the foreground to suggest the chill of autumn. But if it is already a cool autumn day, why does she still need a fan? The painter has used the fan as a metaphor. Taking the “Song of Regret (怨歌行)” by Lady Ban (ca. 48-6 BC), her last lines personifying a fan read, “I often fear when the autumn season comes; The cool breeze drives out the heat of summer. I will be discarded in a box; The affection for me having long since been forgotten. (常恐秋節至,涼飆奪炎熱,棄捐篋笥中,恩情中道絕。)” Tang Yin uses the story of how Lady Ban lost the emperor’s favor (becoming as useless as a fan in autumn) to express his own frustration in life.

       The drapery lines of the figure are rendered with lively brushwork, the technique already quite sophisticated, making this one of Tang Yin’s classic surviving figure paintings. Wen Zhengming’s inscription at the upper right is signed “Zhengming,” a name he started using around the age of 42. Wen and Tang were born in the same year, so Tang probably did this painting sometime after the age of 42.

Lady Ban Holding a Round Fan