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Object in Focus: The Admonitions Scroll

written by Jan Stuart

British Museum Press | ISBN 9780714151083

Paperback – 64 pages


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The Admonitions scroll is an internationally recognized masterpiece of narrative painting and is arguably the earliest surviving Chinese painting. Painted in ink and colour on silk and traditionally attributed to the ‘founding figure’ of Chinese painting, Gu Kaizhi (c.345–c.406), the scroll entered the British Museum in 1903 and has become one of its most famous objects. The scroll illustrates a poem written in AD 292 by the poet-official Zhang Hua (232–300), who was reprimanding Empress Jia (257–300) who had wantonly abandoned the Confucian-based ethical behaviour expected of court ladies, including personal sacrifice to save the emperor should he be in danger. The Admonitions scroll was painted centuries later in order to admonish a different wayward ruler – this time an emperor himself. While didactic and morally instructive, the painted scenes also reveal deep psychological insights into some of the figures as well as offer touching glimpses of court life, including in the bedchamber and a grooming session with the children.

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