Northern Qi Scholars Collating Classic Texts

Full Title: 
北齊校書圖卷; Northern Qi Scholars Collating Classic Texts
Ink and color on silk
27.6 cm (height) x 114 cm (length)
Although this scroll has been identified by many scholars as an illustration of the book collation in the Northern Qi (550-577 CE) imperial library which took place in 556 CE, little evidence from the painting itself can actually verify this subject. The picture is more likely a representation of a literati gathering in a private sphere, rather than an official job in the imperial library. The painted figures’ casual sitting gesture, their half-naked upper bodies, their soft semi-transparent fanons loosely laid around their shoulders, wine cups, zithers, even their hat, headband and horny wispy bun are reminiscent of the well-known brick painting of Zhulin qixian (Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove). A popular subject in the area around today’s Nanjing, Zhulin qixian portrays seven gentlemen living in the 3rd century. They intentionally indulged themselves in drinking alcohol, playing musical instruments, or even showing their naked bodies to implicitly express their noncooperation with the contemporary government. Wandering in the bamboo groves, they reclaimed the greatness of the nature, followed the Daoist philosophy, and rejected the mundane authority of the emperor. This is why they were regarded by Chinese literati as exemplars of individualists and naturalists.
Repository Accession Number: 
Denman Waldo Ross Collection
Description Source: 
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Scrolls Project ID: 
728 349