These two charming panels take their theme from the famous 17th century imperial publication the Yuzhi gengzhi tu, usually called Pictures of Tilling and Weaving in English. The original Gengzhi tu was created in the Song dynasty by Lou Shou (1090-1162) and was published in about 1237. This version contained forty-five illustrations and poems - twenty-one of the scenes depicted rice cultivation and twenty-four depicted silk production. In the 28th year of his reign (1696), the emperor Kangxi commissioned the court painter Jiao Bingzhen to create pictures based upon the Song publication, from which the famous carver Zhu Gui cut woodblocks for illustrations to be included in an imperially printed volume. In this 1696 palace edition each picture was accompanied by a seven-character quatrain, which purports to be by the emperor himself, but as, Soren Edgren has pointed out, these were often the work of scholars at court. For further discussion see S. Edgren, Chinese Rare Books in American Collections, China House Gallery, New York, 1984, pp. 120-1, no. 38. In the Kangxi edition there were forty-six woodcut illustrations - twenty-three of rice cultivation and twenty-three of silk production.
The illustrations from this publication were hugely influential in many areas of the decorative arts, including porcelain and textiles. They were even copied by the Kangxi Emperor's son, the Yongzheng Emperor, who commissioned a set of portraits of himself, in which he takes the place of one of the figures in the original scenes, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 14 - Paintings by the Court Artists of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 74-90, no. 11. This album was probably produced while Yinzhen (the future Yongzheng Emperor) was still a prince, perhaps in part to impress his father with his filial piety.
The scenes on the current embroidered panels relate closely to scenes in both the Kangxi woodblock-printed version and the Yongzheng painted version, as can be seen by comparing the scene depicting the picking of mulberry leaves (to feed to silkworms) with the album leaf shown ibid., p. 84, pl. 30, and the scene in the rice field with the album leaf shown ibid., p. 90, pl. 50. See, also, (Fig. 1), for a woodblock print depicting the picking of the mulberry leaves.