Women and East Asian Art

Palace Ladies Playing Double Sixes

Playing Double Sixes

Zhou Fang, traditionally attributed, Palace Ladies Playing Double Sixes. Late twelfth to mid thirteenth century, Southern Song period. Handscroll, ink and color on silk, 30.5 x 69.1 cm. Freer Gallery of Art.

In Palace Ladies Playing Double Sixes from the Southern Song dynasty, Zhou Fang depicts a simple and flat composition of three separate groups of people in a horizontal sequence. The figures are all shown to be on the same plane as well. Uniting them together, the drawing of the subjects’ plump faces, hairs, and heavily dressed clothing are alike. Yet, the eight figures’ movements, expressions, and distinctive poses disclose their inner varied consciousnesses. double sixTo the center, two palace ladies are seated opposite of each other at a low table playing the double sixes game. Again, to the center, two other palace ladies are standing on one side of the table looking over the game. The disproportionate amount of negative space around these four dominant figures heightens the figures’ prominence and remoteness. Every figure is looking towards the center where the game is happening, indicating that the game is also the focal point of this art piece. red dishjug waterThe jug of water carried by the two servants and the red dish held by the other servant are nearby so the palace ladies playing the game can rinse their hands once the game is finished.[1] The outside four figures surrounding both sides of the masterpiece essentially initiate and finish the act. The outer four figures’ gestures and body compositions face towards each other, also signaling the beginning and ultimate end to the act. We, as the observers of this art piece, come in acting as the final group joining, and therefore closing the space. The overall arrangement of these four clusters of spectators encircling the double sixes game table stress the significance of the game as well as its players.

This painting presents the whereabouts of palace ladies during this period, and their exchanges with one another in a time to spare fashion. The women’s interactions with one another (e.g., playing a double sixes game) allow us, the observers, to vicariously participate in the leisure activity of these women during this time. This is an example of another role that women would undertake during this period of time. The women’s expressions and appearances vary widely to showcase their unalike life routines, characters, and movements as well as their lively social interactions relative to one another.


Author: Sarah Morgan


[1] James Cahill, “The Return of the Absent Servants: Chou Fang’s Double Sixes Restored.” Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America 15, (1961), 26.

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