Misty Willows by Moonlit Dike, painted in 1643 by the celebrated courtesan-turned-gentry-lady Liu Yin (1618–1664, better known as Liu Rushi), and documented by the literary talent Qian Qianyi (1582–1664), serves as the definitive statement on the romantic and artistic union of this eminent pair of cultural figures precisely a year before the fall of the Ming dynasty. It also reflects upon a complex gender dimension in the expression of reclusion entangled with the trauma of dynastic transition. This is revealed, in part, by two additions to the scroll: a small landscape painting of eight years later dedicated to Liu by her close female associate, Huang Jieling (ca. 1620–ca. 1669), and a long commemorative preface that Qian Qianyi wrote for Huang in 1651 reminiscing on bygone glory through the topos of their beloved Jianyun Library that tragically burnt down in 1650. Through a close reading of Liu's and Huang's paintings and Qian's inscriptions on the scroll, this article aims to explore the macrocultural milieu of the time by examining, on the one hand, these two female paradigms of reclusion, and on the other the collective sentiment and memory of the catastrophe of the Ming-Qing dynastic transition as voiced through words and images in their paintings, calligraphy, and the iconography of the willow.

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