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Traditional Chinese painting of beautiful women is an important component of classical figure painting, boasting many excellent works. Women Wearing Flowers by Zhou Fang, a Tang-dynasty artist, is one such.

As spring turns into summer and peony and magnolia bloom together, a group of beautifully dressed and heavily made up palace women are relaxing in a garden. One is teasing a sportive dog with a duster; one is holding her collar as if suffering from the heat; another is too engrossed in a flower in her hand to notice a passing white crane; still another is sailing up from behind. By the rockery on the left stands a lady before a blooming magnolia. She has just caught a butterfly and is looking over her shoulder at a delightful dog. (See detail) Shut up in the palace, they lead a sumptuous but empty life, whiling away their time by enjoying flowers and cranes, catching butterflies and playing with pets. Behind the second lady on the left is a maidservant holding a long-stemmed fan. In contrast with the delight of the others, her eyelids are drooping, and her face is set, vividly evoking palace hierarchy.

Women in Zhou Fang's work exemplify the fashion of the high Tang Dynasty. Emperors preferred plump and full-faced beauties with soaring hairstyles and broad eyebrows, and women rushed to follow the fashion. Zhou Fang first applies a layer of white for a tender skin texture, then modestly adds red. He gives his women almond eyes and lightly painted broad eyebrows with a golden spot between them. Their red lips are small but not disproportionately so. Their hair decked with jewelry or flowers, they are dazzlingly graceful and ethereal.

The openness and prosperity of the Tang Dynasty was the envy of many a country. Dresses were of silk, satin or other cloth and cut d└collet└. Zhou Fang used waving meshlike lines for the texture of hands, and transparent dress materials to emphasize full busts and round shoulders. He was a master of the use of colour patches to bring out different materials and patterns. He achieved contrast with opaque mineral pigments and transparent vegetable pigments for cool and warm colours and different shades. There is an implicit buxomness beneath the diaphanous silks. All this became canonized as the "Zhou style".

Zhou Fang (active ca. 780-810). Tang, a native of Xi'an in Shaanxi, held a fairly high position. His dates are unknown, but he flourished between AD 766 and 804. From an aristocratic family, he was well acquainted with fashionable women and high society, and this influenced his work and subject matter. He studied under Zhang Xuan, a master of the genre, but excelled him in psychological treatment: his portrait of the Tang-dynasty general Guo Ziyi's son-in-law Zhao Zong is said to have caught his character as well as his smile, which argues accuracy of observation and expression on both levels.

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