Children Playing in the Palace Garden (宮苑嬰戲圖)
Anonymous, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, 139.4 x 76.2 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Children at play was a popular subject among artists of the Song Imperial Painting Academy. In this example, twenty-two boys play games, ride hobbyhorses, and enjoy a large masonry slide in a corner of the imperial garden.
The subject matter, costumes, and representational techniques of this scroll derive from works by the Song court painter Su Hanchen (active first half of the 12th century), while the almost naive visualization of the pavilion and the dramatically tilted ground plane reflect the manipulation of forms in space found in the works of Qian Xuan (ca.1235–1305). While a Yuan-dynasty date cannot be ruled out, this painting was most likely executed in the early years of the Ming dynasty, when the Ming court revived the styles and subjects of the Song Imperial Painting Academy. One of the boys is wearing what may be a coat with a rank badge, a device introduced into court costumes by the first Ming emperor (r. 1368–98), which would corroborate this dating.