The Admonitions Scroll on display for 6 weeks at the BM

Written by Amelia Kedge, ITP Assistant

Typically attributed to the Gu Kaizhi, the ‘Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies’ is dated between AD 400 and 700, and depicts a poetic text composed by an official Zhang Hua (about AD 232–300) aimed at correcting the behaviour of an empress.

Throughout nine scenes and across three metres, Hua criticises and reprimands the excessive behaviour of Empress Jia, who was accused of using her influence to manipulate the emperor and murder rivals. The poem was originally used to educate women at court on how to behave according to virtues of Confucian thought, such as humanity, righteousness, loyalty, and respect for parents, husband and emperor. The protagonist of the story is the court instructress who guides the women of the imperial family.

Read from right to left, the nine scenes are illustrated with delicate silk-thread-like brushwork, and captures sophisticated psychological tensions and even humour.

The Scroll carries inscriptions by later collectors, including the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736–1795), which can be spotted by the multiple individual red seals across the Scroll. Originally a handscroll, the painting and later inscriptions were separated and mounted onto panels in 1914.

Due to conservation precautions, the delicate Scroll can only be displayed for six weeks a year, and is currently on display at the British Museum until 15th November 2023.