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Tao Gu Presenting a Lyric (陶穀贈詞圖)

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

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, 168.8 x 102.1 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

       In the early Song (960-1279), Tao Gu (陶穀, 903-970) served an envoy to the small Five Dynasties kingdom of the Southern Tang. Tao was condescending in the face of the Southern Tang ruler Li Houzhu. The Southern Tang officials, angered by his rudeness, came up with a plot; they sent the court courtesan Qin Ruolan (秦蒻蘭) in the guise of the Station Officer’s daughter to seduce Tao. Alone in her company and unsuspecting of her true identity, Tao Gu was overcome by her beauty and forgot his official position, indiscreetly writing a poem for her. The next day, the Southern Tang ruler gave a banquet for Tao Gu. At the banquet, Tao again assumed an air of unbending dignity and unapproachability. The ruler then summoned Qin Ruolan to perform a song, which was the poem that Tao had written for her the day before. Tao Gu was thereupon greatly humiliated and he lost his composure. The painting here illustrates this story.

       In this fine figure painting, Tao Gu sits on a daybed as a candle burns in front. Next to him are writing materials. Qin Ruolan, with her elaborate hairstyle, plays the pipa in a lifelike rendering just before he writes the poem. The tree and stone, bamboo and plantain, and potted flowers, as well as the daybed and painted screens are all painted carefully. The enclosed composition creates for an intimate setting. The coloring is elegant and the scene reserved yet lifelike. In Tang Yin’s poem written in the upper right, he associates himself with the figure of Tao Gu.

Tao Gu Presenting a Lyric