Phoenixes on a Paulownia Tree

Artist: Formerly attributed to Huang Jubao (active mid-10th century)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, ca. 1500
Zhe School
Hanging scroll mounted on panel; ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 153 x 90.7 cm (60 1/4 x 35 11/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll (mounted on panel)

China, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), paulownia tree, phoenix

To 1917
Li Wenqing (late 19th-early 20th century), Shanghai, to 1917 [1]

From 1917 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Li Wenqing, in New York, in 1917 [2]

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


[1] See Original Kakemono and Makimono List, L. 1169, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. See also, Voucher No. 18, December 1916.

[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
Li Wenqing (C.L. Freer source) ca. 1869-1931


A majestic male phoenix stands on one foot looking down on a female lying on the same branch. Swirls of clouds surrounding these mythological birds allude to their elevation-both in the tree and metaphorically, as good omens said to alight in the world when a virtuous ruler is on the throne. Therefore, this imagery had special importance at the court.

Their magnificent crests and flowing plumage is typical of Ming-dynasty depictions of phoenixes as splendid images. Ink is the main substance of the painting but hints of turquoise and other colors now faded suggest that the original scroll created a lavish impression. Other similar versions of this composition were painted with a bright, gemlike palette. The birds are presented more as decorative subjects than as convincingly naturalistic studies of birds. This ornamental approach is consistent with the many designs of phoenixes that appear on Ming-dynasty textiles, porcelains, and carved lacquer ware.

Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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