|What is the picture?|
What is the picture? The original painting used for the background is shown above. Only part of it appears on the Christmas card. It is a traditional Chinese landscape painting in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. We don't know the exact artist, it was probably painted by a group of imperial palace artists in the 17th century. The scene is of mountain peaks showing up through the clouds. Actually the 'painting' is done on silk using a brush using the same tools as Chinese calligraphy. To enjoy the paining start from the foreground and let your eyes wander back through the scenery!
What does it show? The picture shows celebrations during the 11th month festival, which is to show respect for elders. The people are show each other chrysanthemums they have grown, drinking chrysanthemum wine, playing games, painting and climbing mountains. It is one of a set of twelve paintings depicting the months.
Is this a real place? The shapes of the mountains often appear odd to western viewers. Actually these type mountains can be found in some parts of China and are quite realistically represented. Chinese landscape painting follows different conventions found in western art. The general appearance is somewhat abstract rather than being strictly what is seen. Several views of the same scene may be separated by clouds. The idea is to convey the feeling of the place, rather than to paint what it would look like if you were to photograph it. Abstraction was developed much earlier in Chinese art than western art where it is more of a 20th century phenomenon.
Why are the people so small? People and buildings are often present in the pictures, but unless they are the main subject of the picture they are usually painted very small. In the original picture you have to look rather closely to see them. It was a bit of a challenge when I made the card since Santa has to be large enough to see in the printed card, but still fit into the picture!
Why is it yellow? The silk on which it is painted has faded to a yellow/brown color since it was painted. This is very typical of old Chinese paintings.
Why is there a red stamp at the top? Often the artist, and later on important owners, would put their personal seal stamp onto the painting. Sometimes they would even add written comments or poetry! Other than looking pretty, the stamps give a lot of historical information and are harder to forge than signatures.
Is Christmas celebrated in Taiwan? People in Taiwan believe in many different religions. There are many Christians, who do celebrate Christmas. But like many western countries many people give gifts to their children at this time of year, regardless of their beliefs.
What do the Chinese words on card say? Literally, "During this Happy Christmas, give you very deep greetings". Chinese grammar is a bit different to English so it sounds a bit odds! Also the words start at the top right and run in vertical columns reading from top to bottom then right to left.