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December 3: processions

These two pieces are divided by several hundred years, to say nothing of culture. Nor do they have the same expressive intent: Zhang Xuan’s piece is about lightness and delight, while Robert Peake was showing off the majesty of Queen Elizabeth and her nobles.

Zhang Xuan Spring Outing of the Tang Court 8th C (W'pedia)

But there is a fun reflection in the liveliness of the legs–how they all prance along. Poor Peake was at a disadvantage here; Zhang could dispose his horses and riders however they served his design, while Peake was recording a solemn event where all these dignitaries were disposed according to rank. He needed to provide a little visual pizzazz, but he also had to be respectful.

Robert Peake – The Procession Picture c.1600 W'pedia

But while Peake’s pictorial devices seem more tied to illustrative realism than Zhang’s, he’s by no means the slave of logical consistency. For example, the figures are modeled, dark and light, but only as convenient. The legs of the gent in white on the right cast strong shadows on the ground behind him, but not on the dress of the lady behind. The light is dimmer on the row of heads at the back, for no reason other than to keep them from competing with the maximum johnnies in front. The queen is lit as if from within–her canopy doesn’t shadow her at all. And so on. The freedom of Zhang’s style is more obvious, but Peake manages, subtly and deftly, to do as he pleases.