September 25, 2019 – Alfreda Murck

Lecturer in Discipline of Chinese Art History
Columbia University

“Cui Bai’s Magpies and Hare: A Political Allegory”

In the eleventh century of the Northern Song (960-1127), Cui Bai painted Magpies and Hare, a sensitive depiction of an autumn scene in which a hare has startled two magpies. Cui Bai’s Magpies and Hare is classified as a bird-and-flower painting. That is, it is grouped with paintings that are considered primarily decorative with auspicious meanings. It is celebrated as an example of highly-finished and technically accomplished painting. I would like to propose that Cui Bai’s masterpiece can be enjoyed as an autumnal scene and can also be understood as a response to an imperial scandal that began in the fall of 1060 and continued through 1061, the year inscribed on the painting. During that period, court officials critiqued Renzong (r. 1022-63) for failure to manage his family. The precipitating incident involved Renzong’s attractive daughter, who preferred the company of eunuchs to that of her husband. I will argue that through carefully assembled images, Cui Bai alluded to the eunuch, the princess, her husband, and to the court officials who commented on the tangled affair.