Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
late 15th–early 16th century
Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
Image: 63 1/4 x 38 3/4 in. (160.7 x 98.4 cm)
Purchase, Oscar L. Tang Family and The Vincent Astor Foundation Gifts, 1998
Not on view
A jaunty bird peddler is surrounded by six young boys who admire their recent acquisitions or greedily eye other temptations. In addition to various species of birds, his portable display also features a rich assortment of intricate cages, gilt perches, ceramic dishes, lacquer jars, and other paraphernalia required to care for the birds, crickets, and two white rabbits offered for sale.The subject of peddlers first became popular during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–79), when paintings typically showed a rustic knickknack merchant offering his wares to a group of country urchins. During the conscious revival of Song academic styles sponsored by the Ming court, this subject was transformed from a genre image of daily life to an elegant fantasy set within the grounds of an aristocratic household. Here, an elegantly dressed servant, acting the role of peddler, offers a specialized selection of expensive wares to the pampered male children of the family. Such idealized images functioned not merely as entertaining decoration but also as auspicious emblems of a well-governed empire enjoying the rewards of peace and prosperity.