Lady in Her Study with Attendants (LEFT)
Qing dynasty (1644–1912)
Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper
Museum purchase made possible by the Margaret Watson Parker Art Collection Fund, 1973/1.794
These three works are paintings of meiren (“beautiful women”) a genre of painting that first appeared during the late Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and was produced by low- status professional painters, rather than by the scholarly elite. Such paintings frequently depict elaborately dressed women reading in studies, surrounded by books and scrolls. It is likely that they are courtesans, who received extensive training in the arts, literature, music, and calligraphy, and were considered both icons of femininity and the intellectual equals of high-ranking men. In Lady in Her Study with Attendants the woman is brought books, scrolls, and a pipa, or pear-shaped lute, evidence of her literary and musical talents. The two other paintings, probably later copies of Gai Qi’s, also emphasize the women’s intellect. The lichee associates the women with historical beauties, specifically the celebrated imperial consort Yang Guifei, who was famously fond of this fruit.