Xiao Yi Acquiring the "Orchid Pavilion Preface" by Deception (蕭翼賺蘭亭圖)
Yan Liben (閻立本, ca.601-673), Tang Dynasty (618-907)
Handscroll, ink and colors on silk, 27.4 x 64.7 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei
This painting illustrates the story of Xiao Yi (蕭翼), an official under Emperor Taizong (r. 627-649) of Tang who was ordered to acquire the Lanting Scroll (also known as the Orchid Pavilion Preface) by any means, including trickery and theft, from the monk Biancai (辯才), who had the original (by Wang Xizhi, the calligrapher most admired by the Emperor). Among the five figures here, the simple and honest one sitting cross-legged is the old monk Biancai, while across from him sits the conniving Xiao Yi. To the left are attendants preparing tea. The background is blank and the artist has used the arrangement of figures and chairs to suggest space, a feature of Tang painting. Whether the attribution to Yan Liben is true, however, still remains unclear.