The Chinese emperor Ming Huang and Yang Kuei-fei

Artist: Kano school
Historical period(s)
Edo period, early 17th century
Color and gold on paper
H x W: 152 x 162 cm (59 13/16 x 63 3/4 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Screen (two-panel)

concubine, drum, Edo period (1615 - 1868), emperor, flower, flute, Japan, music, playing, sheng, ukiyo-e

To 1903
Yamanaka & Company, to 1903 [1]

From 1903 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Yamanaka & Company in 1903 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]

[1] Undated folder sheet note. See Original Screen List, pg. 17, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. The majority of Charles Lang Freer’s purchases from Yamanaka & Company were made at its New York branch. Yamanaka & Company maintained branch offices, at various times, in Boston, Chicago, London, Peking, Shanghai, Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto. During the summer, the company also maintained seasonal locations in Newport, Bar Harbor, and Atlantic City.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Yamanaka and Co. (C.L. Freer source) 1917-1965


From the eighth century onward, Chinese poetry, painting, and calligraphy were highly esteemed in Japan. Certain Chinese subjects, familiar to Japan's cultural leaders through literary sources, enjoyed great popularity during the early seventeenth century. Chinese poetry of the Tang dynasty (618-907), especially by Bo Juyi (772-846), had been highly appreciated in the Heian period (794-1185) and was nearly as familiar to literate Japanese as was the historic poetry of Japan.

The long poem known as the Song of Everlasting Sorrow recounts the story of Emperor Ming Huang (reigned 712-756), whose excessive love for his beautiful concubine, Yang Guifei (circa 720-756), cast his empire into disorder and brought about her death in the An Lushan uprising of 756. This tragic story of passionate love and grief was illustrated in many Japanese screen paintings during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In this composition, flowers bloom profusely as the emperor and Yang Guifei meet in the palace garden.

The artist of this painting is unknown, but the style reflects the characteristics of the Kano school. Kano painters, who traced their lineage back to the fifteenth century, initially specialized in the subjects and styles of Chinese painting favored in that period by elite patrons such as the shoguns of the Ashikaga line.

Published References
  • James T. Ulak, Howard Kaplan, Dr. Julian Raby. Cherry Blossoms. New York, NY, March 3, 2015. .
  • Takeda Tsuneo. Kinsei shoki shoheiga no kenkyu [Studies in Japanese shoheiga of the 16th and 17th Centuries]. Showa 58 2 vols., Tokyo. vol. 2: p. 61.
  • Robert Garfias, Lincoln Kirstein. Gagaku: The Music and Dances of the Japanese Imperial Household. New York. foreward.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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