Carrying and appreciating lanterns are the most important activities of the Lantern Festival. People of means would decorate their residences with large and colorful lanterns for friends and relatives to enjoy. Children would also carry decorative lanterns in the form of various animals to show off with playful pride. There was even an "Aoshan" lantern mountain five or six stories tall constructed specifically for appreciation by visitors. With cleverly designed spaces, rockeries and naturally flowing water, and colorful lights shining everywhere, it must have been a spectacle to behold. Painters took pleasure in depicting this time of the year, recording the majesty of the Lantern Festival in the past and creating scenes of lanterns in the moonlight to welcome the New Year and bring good fortune to all.
Activities of the Twelve Months: The First Month
- Court artists, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
- Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 175 x 97 cm
This painting portrays the appreciation of blossoms and lanterns during the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Beautiful lanterns bedeck the halls throughout this painting as fireworks are being lit outdoors. People gather to admire and critique the variously colored lanterns and view the plum trees that fill the gardens in full bloom. The roofs of the buildings are mostly heavy round-ridge ones with circular doorways and winding corridors, dividing the courtyard into individual spaces. The composition extends on a diagonal into the background, where we come across a round-roof two-story building to enjoy the scenery. There is also a courtyard with a tall rack upon which is hung a box-shaped lantern as women and children, old and young, gather to observe various performances, their sounds echoing throughout the extraordinarily festive scene.
Joyous Matters of Approaching Peace
- Anonymous, Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
- Album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 18.5 x 24.3 cm
This album with a total of twelve leaves depicts court ladies with children playing in courtyards on the Lantern Festival in a festive mood to celebrate the New Year. In the paintings are lanterns decorated in the form of an elephant, crane, deer, bat, hawk, rabbit, and the God of Literature. Their great variety and refined production reveal the lavish lifestyle of the Qing court at the New Year with nothing left out.
The album is full of images with auspicious meaning of all kinds, such as the first leaf depicting a "white elephant lantern." The elephant carries on its back a vase with a "ruyi" scepter and halberd. Symbolizing a peaceful world with everything going as wished, it was a subject popular among people at the New Year. The beautifully refined style in the album suggests the work of the Qing Painting Academy.