"Longevity" 壽 - ROM2018_16231_45


"Longevity" 壽

Maker: Wenyizhai
Medium:Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper
Geography: Xiaojiaochang, Shanghai, China
Period: Nineteenth to mid-twentieth century
Ht 54.5 x Wt 31.2 cm
Object number: 995.160.15.3
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Hood
On view
Gallery Location:The Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume

These four pictures form a series of New Year prints. The upper section of each print is engraved with a different giant double-outlined character, which are respectively fu (fortune), lu 祿 (prosperity), shou (longevity), and xi (happiness). The characters are depicted in diverse colours and with varied background patterns.1

In the “fu” picture, a heavenly official (tianguan 天官) opens a scroll with four characters, “heavenly official gives blessing to people” (tianguan cifu 天官賜福). On the upper right side, a flying red bat symbolizes good fortune. A boy is located on each side of the heavenly official. The two boys are of different ages. The younger one on the right holds an official seal, which represents power, while the elder one on the left lifts a vase. Three halberds are placed in the vase, and from the halberds hang a stone chime and a double-fish pendant. The combination of three halberds, a chime, and fish symbolizes “may you be promoted by three ranks at once” and “may there be a surplus of auspices and happiness.”

The “lu” picture depicts two men on horseback who are using whips to urge the horses to gallop. These men represent the top officials in the civil and military imperial examinations. They are on their way home to share the excellent results of the exams with their families. In front of the horses, two boys bearing flags lead the way. The text on one flag reads, “number one in the imperial exam” (zhuangyuan jidi 狀元及第), and the other flag reads, “obtain the first place all to himself” (duzhan aotou 獨占鰲頭). A boy follows the horses, lifting a canopy.

In the “shou” print, the god of longevity holds a deer-headed walking stick in his right hand. On the walking stick hangs a bottle gourd. The god’s left hand gestures to a crane to come. The bottle gourd (hulu 葫蘆) is a pun for “fortune and prosperity” (fulu 福祿). In front of the god, a boy rides on a deer and raises two celestial peaches. Another boy is holding the rein of the deer and guiding it. The deer carries a ganoderma (a type of mushroom) in its mouth. Deer and crane are both symbols of longevity.

The “xi” print depicts two Immortals of Harmony and Unity in the middle of the picture. One is opening a treasure box containing gold, silver, and precious things, while the other holds a lotus.2 A young attendant is on each side of them. One is holding a coin, and the other is grabbing an elixir of life. The image of a flying red bat in front of a coin symbolizes “the fortune is in front of you.”

The four pictures together express good wishes for fortune, prosperity, longevity, and happiness. The first three prints are all inscribed with “Wenyizhai at the west of Shangyang Temple” (Shangyang miao xi wenyizhai 上洋廟西文儀齋), followed by a seal qiutian 秋田. The last print, “xi,” has the inscription “made by Wenyizhai at Shangyang” (Shangyang wenyizhai zhi 上洋文儀齋制), but no seal. According to the inscriptions, this series of New Year prints was made in the Wenyizhai print shop from Xiaojiaochang in Shanghai.

1 For the early publications of this set of prints, see Doré, Researches into Chinese Superstitions vol. IV, fig. 173a/b/c/d, 433-7.

2 For the Immortals of Harmony and Union, see cat. 1-3.

Publication: Wen-Chien Cheng, and Yanwen Jiang. Gods in my home: Chinese ancestor portraits and popular prints (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2019), 82-83.

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