Title: Bounty of Paradise (TGF Catalogue No. 425.30001)Gallery
Ca. 40 B.C.E.
Rice paper, dye, wood
Originally thought to be the work of Mae Non Zhe, a late Han Dynasty court artist, this piece has been under scrutiny since 2010, when archeologists discovered a reference to “the [illegible] sweet and frozen Bounty of Paradise,” made by Emperor Wu of Han apparently on his deathbed. This fine paper cutting, known as jianzhi and done in the traditional Chinese style, was likely completed at Dunhuang, Gansu province, though it was found in the subterranean archives of Florence’s Church of San Lorenzo in 2007.
Controversy surrounds the claim that Marco Polo removed the piece to Italy on his return from China. A contemporary playwright, Moretto Borsato, satirized his (apparent) attempt to buy the piece from Polo in 1301.
But fine was it, that Fruit of Heaven (sic). Far too fine to lend a friend. Find the ancient
mixes [recipes?], said the wise explorer. And I shall be knocking on your door, not the
other way ‘round! The Traveler’s Return (1305), Moretto Borsato.
The claim is supported by Polo’s own diary, which makes myriad mention of the “Bounty of Heaven,” though is never completely clear about what it references, except in one spot where Polo explicitly claims, “And all the silver ducats, offered that Mongol prince for the escort of his regal sister, I now would gladly trade to see the red fruit dye of that Bounty of Heaven transform, once again, into that succulent frozen fruit… to see that tasteless paper morphed back into that thing it was made to resemble.” What it was made to resemble we may never know.