Women from imperial China were often depicted in terms of their highly circumscribed lives, which were entirely dependent upon men. In some paintings, women engage in duties according to their socio-economic status based on patriarchal Confucian principles. Other paintings show women with elaborate coiffures and silk dresses, serving as musicians or courtesans. Literary and visual artists often compared women’s physical attributes to flowers, depicting them as refined, delicate, and otherworldly.
Other artists hinted at suppressed urges and emotions, which reflected a growing interest in the inner lives of their female subjects. These paintings demonstrate this interest in the following verses, sung by the female protagonist in the play, The Peony Pavilion, 1598. Confined to the inner quarters of her home, she laments a brilliantly flowering spring scene in her isolated garden:
The flowers in purple and red,
Scattering here and there,
Yet only accompanied by
Dry wells and ruined fence.