DONG BANGDA'S ZHONGQIU SHUYI TU, MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL AT THE IMPERIAL GARDEN
Palace Museum, Beijing
Dong Bangda was a noted editorial official of the early Qing dynasty and a typical literati painter, being closely connected to palace art circles.
Dong Bangda, (1699-1769), zi: Fucun or Feiwen, sobriquet: Dongshan, was a native of Fuyang (now part of Zhejiang Provence). In 1723 he became a tribute student, and in 1733 he became a presented scholar as a result of success the metropolitan examination, being appointed junior compiler in the Hanlin Academy1. In 1738 by imperial command he was appointed examining official for the Shaanxi Provincial Examination, and shortly thereafter he was promoted to academician reader-in-waiting at the Hanlin Academy. In 1744 he participated in the compilation of the first edition of Shiqu baoji along with Zhang Zhao, Liang Shizheng, Li Zongwan, Zhang Ruoai, Zhuang Yougong, Qiu Yuexiu, Chen Bangyan, and Guan Bao. In 1747 upon imperial command he took up duties in the Southern Study and was promoted to secretary of the Grand Secretariat. In 1750 he was made a vice minister, serving in the Ministry of Revenue, the Ministry of Works, and the Ministry of Personnel. In 1762 he became left censor-in-chief and later was promoted to minister in the Ministries of Works and of Rites. After his death in 1769, the Qianlong Emperor honored him with imperial burial rites and conferred upon him the posthumous title Wenke (Scrupulous in Writing).
Dong Bangda was important not only as a government official but also as a painter. As an official, he was successful in his official career and heaped with honors. In the course of his life he succeeded in the imperial examinations, achieving the prestigious degree of presented scholar, and he served as a court official. Ordinarily, he was busy in his official capacity and had time for painting only in his spare moments. Hence, he was not a professional painter. Yet as a painter, he excelled, especially in landscape painting, and he achieved a degree of fame in his time. In style he followed the four masters of the Yuan dynasty (Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen, Ni Zan, Wang Meng) and the four Wangs of the early Qing dynasty (Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui, Wang Yuanqi). In his landscape paintings, his use of ink and wash is sparse and light, his addition of color is elegantly pale, his brushwork is soft, his interior texturing is tastefully loose, and his literary appeal is especially high.
Because Dong Bangda excelled in landscape painting and had established a name for himself as a painter, the emperor often asked Dong Bangda to paint for him, and Dong Bangda, on his part, often presented his paintings to the emperor. On all his works painted under these circumstances, the artist, in his signature, added the character chen (Loyal Minister) before his name, thereby indicating that the work was presented to the emperor. Zhongqiu shiyi tu (Mid-autumn Festival at the Imperial Garden), which we shall examine below, is just such a work. In this work, Dong Bangda not only composed the painting but also wrote one of the poems.
Zhongqiu shiyi tu is a scroll painting that Dong Bangda created especially for the Emperor. This scroll is a pale-colour composition on paper, measuring 640.3 by 24cm. This painting is recorded in the third edition of Shiqu baoji, a catalogue of the imperial collection. The entire scroll is a composition in three parts. First is a four-character inscription written by the Qianlong emperor, "Guanghan qing zhao" (The moon shines chilly and bright [the emperor's poetic term for the moon being the "Great Cold Palace"]), and "Zhongqiu tiezi ci" (Mid-Autumn Introduction), also by the Emperor. Next is Dong Bangda's painting. Finally, there are the flattering words of court ministers. The ministers, in the order of their words, were Liang Shizheng, Wang Youdun, Jiang Pu, Qian Chenqun, Zhang Ruoai, Jie Fu, Ji Huang, Dong Bangda, and De Bao. All these ministers wrote their titles of office and the character chen (Loyal Minister) above their names. Wang Youdun neatly wrote the flattering words of all the ministers in regular script.
Dong Bangda's painting is primarily an ink and wash, embellished with a little colour. The style is tasteful and restrained. The spacious scenery is faint in the dim light of the moon-lit night, and all is quiet in the surrounding area. Here and there are small groups of people drinking wine while viewing the moon, burning incense in supplication, appreciating the moon from the second floor of a tall building, or chanting with head bowed. Finally, there are a few palace buildings with yellow-tile roofs partially hidden from view. These buildings touch on the topic of the painting: a mid-autumn night that emperor and ministers spend together. The place appears to be Xiyuan (Western Garden), corresponding to present-day Zhongnanhai and Beihai in Beijing. At the end are the painter's signature and seals. The signature reads, "Reverently painted upon imperial command by Hanlin Academician Reader-in-Waiting Dong Bangda," and the seals read, chen (Loyal Minister) and "Bangda."
At the end of "Zhongqiu tiezi ci" (Mid-Autumn Introduction), the Qianlong emperor wrote, "Written by the emperor in the Chonghua Palace, 1746." Dong Bangda's painting was probably completed at this time or shortly later.
1. The present title and office names throughout the essay follow Charles Hucker, A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China, Stanford University, 1985.
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