two seated men flanking a standing woman, seen from back, playing a lute on a boat; orasman wraps one leg around oar; a fourth man sits with a horse on bank, LLC; grey ink-blotch mountains; text above

Ode to the Pipa, or Song of the Lute, 1650

The artist Wang Jianzhang’s inscription tells us that he painted this work for his friend Gong Weiliu in 1650, after Gong acquired Wen Jia’s calligraphic rendering of the “Pipa Xing” (“Song of the Pipa Player”), a famous poem. Both Wen’s script and Wang’s painting were mounted together on the same scroll. This famous Tang poem, composed by the poet Bai Juyi (772–846), is one of the great poems of Chinese literature. In it, a man encounters a woman playing a stringed instrument called a pipa and expresses the sadness he feels when he hears her play her melancholy song. Here, Wang depicts the woman standing on a boat in the moonlit river, playing her instrument. Interestingly, she faces away from the viewer, hiding her expression; her sorrow, as well as her beauty, is obscured.

Details
Title
Ode to the Pipa, or Song of the Lute
Artist Life
active c. 1621 - 1650
Role
Artist
Accession Number
2006.44.1
Curator Approved

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two seated men flanking a standing woman, seen from back, playing a lute on a boat; orasman wraps one leg around oar; a fourth man sits with a horse on bank, LLC; grey ink-blotch mountains; text above