Coromandel Screen, 17' in length and 9' high, Composed of twelve panels
A twelve-panel screen dominates the west wall of the Thomas Room. Represented in the center is a scene of daily life in the yamen or city hall of a district magistrate. The figures, all male, are engaged in various activities. Government workers are identified by their dark gray hats with flaps, and soldiers by their boots and weapons. In the middle is the magistrate himself, attending to a person who perhaps has come to make an appeal to him. Beyond the wall are trees, birds, and ponds with lots flowers. Framing the screen are ceremonial vessels, symbols of scholars' and artists' trades, and flowers of the four seasons.
In contrast, the reverse side of the screen is decorated with a landscape scene. It features men in boats and on bridges, fishing and walking near a lake in front of a mountain range. Flowers of the four seasons frame the scene. The absence of women from both scenes reflects the earlier Chinese attitude that women belong in the home rather than in public places.
The screen has been dated to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and may have been produced in the early 17th century. It was probably meant to serve as a decorative room divider in the home of a wealthy family. The artistic technique has been called "bantam work." The panels of soft pine wood were painted with dark brown lacquer. Scenes were then incised and painted with chalky white, blue, green, red, and yellow watercolors which have faded or rubbed off. Figures and objects are separate and distinct. As these depictions are slightly recessed and softly colored they create a brocade-like pattern on the hard lacquered surface. Coromandel refers to the trading station on the south Indian coast from which this and other Chinese art objects were shipped to the west. The Coromandel screen was a gift of Mrs. James A. Thomas (the former Dorothy Quincy Hancock Read).
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