The seals embroidered on the scroll read lusiangyuan xiu, embroidered at the Garden of Fragrant Dew, and zheng xien, Immortal of Needlework. The inscription can be read as 'The gentle mandarin duck chases his companion amidst splendorous lotus blossoms. The lush green reeds glow with light, as though they are stems of jadeite.
The Gu Family's embroideries were greatly admired by the leading artists of the day as they reflected the subtleties of classic painting. Gu Mingshi passed the imperial examination in 1559 to become a civil official. He constructed a mansion at Songjiang (today Shanghai), and whilst excavating a pond for the new residence, a fragment of old stone inscribed with characters luxiang chi, pond of fragrant dew was found, hence the name of the mansion. The female members of the Gu family were well-known for their artistic and skilled embroidery. The most famous was Han Ximeng, the wife of Gu Mingshi's second grandson. Han Ximeng spent several years embroidering reproductions of eight well-known paintings of the Song and Yuan periods. Her works were given the supreme accolade of laudatory inscriptions by Dong Qichang, one of the most famous artist-calligraphers of the Ming dynasty. Han Ximeng signed her work Wuling xiushi, Master Embroiderer of Wuling, and even wrote a history of embroidery. Han Ximeng's daughter followed her mother and became an accomplished interpreter of classic painting in the medium of silk. Later when the family fortunes declined, Gu Lanyu opened the commercial studio of the Gu family embroidery at the Luxian Yuan.
The Gu family revived earlier Song period embroidery techniques but the school also refined new techniques of subtle shading and the use of exceptionally fine thread. It is believed that human hair was itself occasionally used in some Gu family embroidered pictures.
Compare an example of lotus flowers in very similar detail, dated to the Kangxi period, illustrated in Guoli Gugong Bowuyuan Cixiu, Embroidery in the Collection of the National Palace Museum, Gakken, Tokyo, 1970, pl.28, and one example in Zhixiu Shuhua, Gugong Bowuyuan Cang Zhenpin Quanji, Embroidered Pictures, the Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2005, pl.50. Another almost identical example at the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, is illustrated in The Arts of the Ming Dynasty, London, 1957, pl. 82.