Illustrations of Xixiangji from the Late Ming Dynasty
This article focuses on the diversities and traits of the wood-block prints shown in Xixiangji(西廂記), or The Romance of the Western Chamber, a drama of the Yuan Dynasty of which there are many different versions, depending on the place where they were made and the time when they were printed during the Late Ming Dynasty. Wood-block illustrators produced illustrations which revealed the regional characteristics of Jianan, Jinling and Huizhou. Those places were the centers of production of wood-block prints during the Late Ming Dynasty. From the Wanli period (1573~1615) to the Chongzhen period(1628~1644), Xixiangji was engraved on wood blocks in many regions including Jinling and Huizhou. The illustrations of Xixiangji, printed in Jianan and Jinling during the Early Wanli period, consisted of simple compositions featuring a clear contrast of black and white in bold and thick lines. From the Mid-Wanli period, Wang Geng and the Huang family from Huizhou led the Anhui style which influenced other regions during the Late Ming Dynasty. The illustrations produced in the Anhui style exhibited a wonderful harmony between the figures and scenery in terms of their delicate and decorative patterns. In particular, Wang Geng's style of figures exerted considerable influence on the styles of Jinling and Wulin wood-block prints. From the late Wanli period to the Chongzhen period, a new style of Xixiangji illustrations appeared throughout Wulin and Wuxing. Those illustrations displayed a new tendency that emphasized the landscape compared to the figures inside the scene. Meanwhile, Chen Houngshou constructed a different style from other illustrators who emphasized a distant view for the landscape and figure prints. In the case of Zhangshenzhizheng Beixixiangmiben(張深之正北西廂秘本), he attempted to focus on figures instead of scenery and tried to forge his own style. Even though his style was creative, it was partly based on the pre-existing illustrations of Huizhou. There was an interesting point in the portrait of Cui Yingying, the heroine of Xixiangji, who appeared in the frontispieces of several versions of Xixiangji. She appeared for the first time on Xixiangjizalu(西廂記雜錄), which was published in Suzhou in 1569. The inscriptions on the picture said that they originated from the figure paintings of Chen Juzhong of the Song Dynasty or Tang Yin of the Ming Dynasty, even though they did not show any specific similarities or connections with them. In the case of Chen Hongshou, his portraits of Yingying were characteristic and they were based on his original beauty painting in his own figure paintings. It was also important that the portrait of Cui Yingying in the Late Ming Dynasty had influenced on the beauty illustration of wood-block prints in the Early Qing Dynasty. Based on the solid structures of the text, the illustrations of Xixiangji were developed into various expressive styles, increasing its commercial value.
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