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"The Pleasures of the Peony in Chinese Art: Regarding the Floral Temptress in the Song Dynasty"
The appreciation of the peony has an extensive history in Chinese art and literature. As early as the Tang dynasty (618-907) the allure of peony had become obsessive, bordering on mania. By the Northern Song (960-1127), according to some floral connoisseurs, the species had already nearly one hundred varieties, and the peonies of the great city of Luoyang were revered as the best under heaven. In every March during times of peace, Louyang experienced a carnival of peony extravaganza, as admirers vied to create, own, and display the most ravishing specimens. Under the weight of such sensational attention, the peony became imbued with a wide range of associations. The temptations of the flower, long associated with feminine seductiveness, compelled poets to write poems extolling its sensuous charms. For most aficionados, the voluptuous peony was celebrated in paintings, praised in poetry, and acclaimed in botanical studies. For others, however, the floral beauty was regarded with some forbearance, as a subject too seductive for proper scholarly attention or artistic expression. This presentation explores varying facets of the Song-dynasty peony as presented in paintings, poetry, and prose in order to reclaim the complexities it evoked as well as to consider the anxieties the blossoming temptress inspired.