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Peonies
17th-18th century

Yun Shouping , (Chinese, 1633-1690)
Qing dynasty

Ink and color on silk
H: 223.6 W: 101.7 cm
China

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1901.172

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Legend has it that one winter day Empress Wu (reigned 684-705) commanded the flowers in her royal garden to bloom and all obeyed-except the peony. Angered, she banished the flower from Changan, the capital, to Luoyang, which is now known as the "City of Peonies." This tale of stubbornness and degradation notwithstanding, the tree peony was a favorite of the Tang dynasty court, prized for its exquisitely shaped petals and stunning colors. Peonies continue to be honored as a symbol of status and power, inspiring such sobriquets as the "king of flowers" (huawang), "beauty of nations and scent of heaven" (guoshe tianxiang), and "flower of wealth and rank" (fuguihua).