Puzzles are indulgences. There is no point in painstakingly reconstructing some image, that has been cut up into a thousand pieces. But there you are, working on this pointless task to the do the detriment of the twenty-eight items on your to-do list, working away with your younger daughter, as the Tang Dynasty gown your working on is fitted together, where the lavender hem meets the mint cross fold of the shoulders and over at the other corner your little one has compiled the visage of three statuesque young ladies who cared for one another while they loathed one another in that courtly world before there was a Magna Carta or a Notre Dame Cathedral.
I direct your attention to the accompanying picture. We managed to ‘finish’ the puzzle, only to discover that two pieces were missing. Shitty. Mighty shitty to come this close and have to pull apart the couch and lift up the rug and repeat the process three or four more times so that you can definitively give up on any further search. Two pieces are missing in action and that’s how it’s gonna be.
Who were these nine ladies who were part of princess Zhang-yi’s marriage ceremony? Were frescos like this painted from memory? Did a troupe of young ladies traipse about, modeling while the artist applied the paint to the wet, drying fresco surface? Are these ladies pals of the princess? Are they also the extended family of sisters all sired by Taizong? Or was this the imperial harem of concubines showing out for the princess, on her big day? All I can do is hope that one day this young daughter of mine is visiting the provincial museum in Shaanxi and turns the corner and says, “Oh, wait. I know that painting.”
The next painting, of a Qing Dynasty diplomatic reception, is completely different. People are minuscule as opposed to primary. The scene is expansive and the predominant color that populates the misty tableau are an array of people dressed in dark and lighter blue. The atmosphere looks like a typical day in Beijing wherein you’d complain that global warming and industrialization had ruined vast swaths of China though this was painted in the eighteenth century and you’re reminded that Beijing has always has this dusty, ochre tint to its aquarium.