Sitting Alone by a stream by Fan Kuan

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Sung dynasty (960-1279) was an age of cultural expansion. An aesthetic marked by simplicity prevailed and permeated all levels of society. The imperial court valued the classical rites of high antiquity, and scholar-officials acquired a sensibility firmly grounded in the values of antiquity and archaism from their scholarly and collecting activities. Artisans also infused forms and decorative motifs with elements from Nature, as works of art reveal a dedication to and celebration of life among the people of the Sung dynasty. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Scholars constructed aesthetic theories and compiled comprehensive catalogues on the objects they saw and collected. The imperial court mandated the presentation of tribute gifts from all regions, ordered the production of models, and appointed special officials for the purpose of nurturing the manufacture of arts and crafts. Continuous innovation in the realm of scientific technology, in tandem with the growing dexterity of craftsmen, resulted in the creation of wares characterized by an interest in everyday life, a solemn formality of styles, and a natural grace. Neighboring regions, such as the Liao (916-1123), Western Hsia (1032-1227), Ta-li (752-1251), Chin (1125-1234), Mongolia, Korea, and Japan, all rushed to make diplomatic offerings and pursue trade relations, in large part to benefit from the burgeoning crafts industry in China. Porcelain and lacquerware thus were in heavy demand throughout East Asia. \=/

Sung dynastic styles largely persisted in the neighboring Chin (1115-1234) and following Yüan (1271-1368) dynasties, the former later conquering the northern area of the Sung and the latter ultimately vanquishing it completely. Underglaze blue wares, carved lacquer, and enamelware, among other such decorative arts, gradually came to dominate the market in the late Yüan period, around the mid-14th century. In fact, art from the period between the Sung and early Yüan became a revered classical model for handicrafts in later centuries.” \=/

Good Websites and Sources on the Song Dynasty: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; ; Tang Dynasty: Wikipedia ; Google Book: China’s Golden Age: Everday Life in the Tang Dynasty by Charles Benn; Chinese History: Chinese Text Project ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization ; Chaos Group of University of Maryland ; 2) WWW VL: History China ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia Books: “Daily Life in Traditional China: The Tang Dynasty”by Charles Benn, Greenwood Press, 2002; "Cambridge History of China" Vol. 3 (Cambridge University Press); "The Culture and Civilization of China", a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); "Chronicle of the Chinese Emperor" by Ann Paludan; “Housing, Clothing, Cooking, from Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion 1250-1276" by Jacques Gernet (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962.

Song Art Themes: In Search of the Ancients and Beauty of Nature

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “People of the Sung dynasty valued proper and authentic rituals, searching for evidence of them from ancient times. In the early Sung, the "San-li t'u (Illustrated Three Rites)" was designated as the authoritative manual for implements used in rituals and ceremonies. Northern Sung scholars also appreciated and collected ancient ritual objects, and they did critical readings of inscriptions in order to rectify errors with regard to the current forms of vessels. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Illustrated manuals recording these objects were composed and printed, including "K'ao-ku t'u (Illustrated Antiquities)" and "Hsuan-ho po-ku t'u-lu" (Illustrated Catalogue of Hsuan-ho Antiquities). Not only did these become models for the instruments and wares subsequently produced for halls and temples, their elegant classicism came to characterize Sung period aesthetics. \=/

“People in the Sung dynasty were keenly observant of all things around them, and even utilitarian, everyday objects were inspired by nature. Forms of objects were given descriptive titles like "hibiscus bowl" or "lotus-leaf cup", and the terms "hare's fur" and "partridge spots" were poetically applied in praise of glaze colors. Artisans were adept at rendering ripe melons and fruit, supple flower petals, ducks, geese, fish darting through water, and rabbits and deer in a forest. Regardless of form or pattern, such decorative motifs impart to vessels an air of graceful elegance that surpasses their utilitarian function.” \=/

Song Art Themes: Foreign Cultures and Elegant Living

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: From the 10th to 14th centuries, East Asia not only witnessed the rise of the Chinese Sung dynasty, but other states also emerged alongside it, including the Liao (916-1123), Western Hsia (1032-1227), Ta-li (752-1251), and Goryeo (Korea). Later appeared the Chin dynasty (1125-1234) and finally the Mongol Yuan (1271-1368). Objects were often exchanged as tribute, given as rewards for service, and served as media for trade, with craftsmanship, design, and overall style becoming reciprocal sources of inspiration among these peoples. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Ma Yuan, scholar by a waterfall

“Sung scholars were serious connoisseurs of the implements of the studio – brush, paper, ink, and inkstone – treasuring those of exquisite quality. Commoners in the cities took pleasure in such aspects of daily life as making offerings of incense, testing tea, arranging flowers, and viewing plantings. In an effort ti satisfy popular demand, craftsman took care to their creations a meaningful and lasting appeal. Enhanced by their imagination, mirrors, pillows, flower vases, incense burners tea wares, wine vessels, and other objects of daily life were all of an exquisite and elegant nature. Examples of this in the collection at the Palace Museum in Taipei include: a pillow in the shape of a recumbent child with white glaze ( Porcelain, Ting ware, Northern Sung dynasty, ca., 11th-12th centuries) and Inkstone with landscape of the "Orchid Pavilion" (T'ao River stone, Sung to early Ming dynasty, ca. 10th -14th centuries).

“Southern Song culture tended toward refinement and elegance as court painters excelled at rendering the palace banquets, activities of the seasons, and ceremonial celebrations in and around the capital of Hangzhou. Whether records of real events or flights of the imagination, they all reflect the prosperous and sumptuous spirit of actual life among members of the upper classes and the imperial family in the Southern Song. The elegance of scholar life, private gardens of recluses, viewing of paintings and chanting of poems, tasting of tea and unrolling of scrolls, and appreciation of curios are all found in the works of art done at this time, becoming specialized subjects in painting. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The subject of figures and genre had appeared in painting starting from the Five Dynasties and Northern Song period, also including artists who specialized in them. Along with the commoners mentioned in poems and songs, they all reveal and relate to the tradition of folk life. A rich variety of works in this subject also appear in the Southern Song, and with consummate perfection of skill in rendering, they further express the feeling and appearance of everyday life among ordinary folk.” \=/

Song Dynasty Painting

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “The Song and Yuan periods are considered by many the high point of painting in China. Figure painting during the Song carried on the achievements of Tang representations of the human subject, which had reached a high level of skill in the portrayal of individual psychologies and the nuances of the given narrative.” [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington,]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The main aspects of Chinese painting, such as the techniques of rendering, specialization of painters, ideas of painting, types of painting subjects, the establishment of individual styles and regional manners, and the cultural realm of painting all matured in the Northern Sung period [960-1127] and reached a level of completion. Later generations often followed the modes and ideas established in this period to develop their own paths in painting.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The medium for early Chinese painting (in ink either with or without color) and calligraphy (ink) was usually silk, a material that, when exposed for prolonged periods to the light and air of exhibition galleries, tends to deteriorate and become brittle at an accelerated rate. In order to protect these works, it was decided several years ago that their display at the Museum be restricted to periods of no more than three months. Moreover, some works were deemed particularly ancient or important, thus necessitating even further protection. Consequently, starting in 1984, twenty works of painting and calligraphy were chosen for their renown, importance, or age. They are restricted in terms of display, research, and photography--being only available for public viewing from October to November. This is considered the best time of the year for display in terms of humidity and temperature. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

Song Dynasty paintings and calligraphy in the National Palace Museum, Taipei collection include: 1) "Sitting Alone by a Stream" (Fan K'uan); 2) "Monkey and Cats" (I Yuan-chi); 3) "Buildings on a Mountainside" (Hsiao Chao); 4) "Children at Play in an Autumn Garden" (Su Han-ch'en); 5) "Banquet by Lantern Light" (Ma Yuan); 6) "Lady Wen-chi's Return to China" (Ch'en Chu-chung); 7) "Squirrel on a Peach Branch" (Ch'ien Hsuan); 8) "Scroll of Buddhist Images" (Chang Sheng-wen, Ta-li Kingdom [Sung Period]); 9) "The Ladies' Book of Filial Piety" (Kao-tsung and Ma Ho-chih); 10) "Pavilions Amid Winter Trees" (Anonymous); 11) "Green Bamboo and Feathered Guests" (Anonymous); Calligraphy; 12) "Poem" (Hui-tsung).

Song Dynasty Painters and Painting Schools

Some scholars say that Chinese painting reached its pinnacle during the Song dynasty under Hui Tsung (1100-1126), an emperor who was much better painter than ruler. He set up and taught at China's first academy of painting and amassed a collection of 6,400 painting by 231 masters. Chinese artists often collected the works of other artists as sources of inspiration. Ebrey wrote: “During the Northern Song, and especially during the reign of Huizong (r. 1100-1125), the standing of court painters was raised and the court painting academy became an educational institution; court painters were ranked, tested, and rewarded in imitation of the way civil service officials were. Courtly styles throughout the Song and Yuan period were characterized by technical finesse and close observation. Court artists spent part of their time copying old masterpieces, a practice that served the practical purposes of preserving compositions but also helped maintain high technical standards.”

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “While the Song period was one of perfection in all fields of art, painting undoubtedly gained its highest development in this time. We find now two main streams in painting: some painters preferred the decorative, pompous, but realistic approach, with great attention to the detail. Later theoreticians brought this school in connection with one school of meditative Buddhism, the so-called northern school. Men who belonged to this school of painting often were active court officials or painted for the court and for other representative purposes. One of the most famous among them, Li Lung-mien (ca. 1040-1106), for instance painted the different breeds of horses in the imperial stables. He was also famous for his Buddhistic figures. Another school, later called the southern school, regarded painting as an intimate, personal expression. They tried to paint inner realities and not outer forms. They, too, were educated, but they did not paint for anybody. They painted in their country houses when they felt in the mood for expression. Their paintings did not stress details, but tried to give the spirit of a landscape, for in this field they excelled most. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

Best known of them is Mi Fei (ca. 1051-1107), a painter as well as a calligrapher, art collector, and art critic. Typically, his paintings were not much liked by the emperor Hui Tsung (ruled 1101-1125) who was one of the greatest art collectors and whose catalogue of his collection became very famous. He created the Painting Academy, an institution which mainly gave official recognition to painters in form of titles which gave the painter access to and status at court. Ma Yuan (c. 1190-1224), member of a whole painter's family, and Xia Kui (c. 1180-1230) continued the more "impressionistic" tradition. Already in Song time, however, many painters could and did paint in different styles, "copying", i.e. painting in the way of Tang painters, in order to express their changing emotions by changed styles, a fact which often makes the dating of Chinese paintings very difficult.

Subjects of Song Dynasty Painting

Landscape painting matured during the Song Dynasty. Artists created paintings that viewers could gaze on, wander and travel through and dwell in. Artists who painted birds, flowers and animals tried not only to accurately depict the shape and appearance of their subjects, they also aimed to capture their internal emotions, ideas and essential characteristics.

Landscapes, birds and flowers weren’t the only subjects of Song paintings. Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “In the Song period, the range of acceptable subject matter for artists expanded considerably-like poets and other writers, painters began depicting scenes of daily life with much greater frequency. Accordingly, the art works of this period often present us with a fuller and more complex look into social customs and relationships than an examination of written sources alone could provide. Our knowledge of how people dressed, interacted socially, and how and where they made a living or practiced their trade is greatly enhanced by studying paintings of the period.[Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington,]

Ma Yuan, Walking on a Path in Spring

The artists of many of the great masterpieces of Chinese are unknown. Among the great Song era painters who are known are Zhang Zeduan, Gu Hongzhong, Fan Kuan, Ma Yuan; and Guo Xi. Song-era paintings in collection at National Palace Museum, Taipei include: 1) "Sitting Alone by a Stream" by Fan K'uan; 2) "Monkey and Cats" by I Yuan-chi; 3) "Buildings on a Mountainside" by Hsiao Chao; 4) "Children at Play in an Autumn Garden" by Su Han-ch'en; 5) "Banquet by Lantern Light" by Ma Yuan; 6) "Lady Wen-chi's Return to China" by Ch'en Chu-chung; 7) "Squirrel on a Peach Branch" by Ch'ien Hsuan; 8) "Scroll of Buddhist Images" by Chang Sheng-wen, Ta-li Kingdom [Sung Period]; 9) "The Ladies' Book of Filial Piety" by Kao-tsung and Ma Ho-chih; 10) "Pavilions Amid Winter Trees" by Anonymous; 11) "Green Bamboo and Feathered Guests" by Anonymous, Sung Dynasty.

Paintings with Political Agendas

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “Many of the paintings made at court served political purposes. Emperors liked to see paintings that testified to the effectiveness of their rule, signs that the people were prosperous and happy, or that Heaven had responded to their virtue by sending auspicious omens. Another favored topic was stories of noble or exemplary individuals, especially ones that had messages for rulers. Emperors also commissioned illustrations of the classics, which confirmed their support of learning. All of these uses of painting were especially prominent during the reign of the first emperor of the Southern Song, Gaozong, who had to convince the literati that even though they had not been able to push back the Jurchen and retake the ancient homeland of China, they were the legitimate government, the protector of ancient traditions. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, /=]

“The central section of a large hanging scroll illustrates the story of a loyal minister of the Han dynasty. At a court audience Zhu Yun inappropriately asked for the emperor's sword. Outraged, the emperor sentenced Zhu to death, but when his guards tried to drag Zhu away, he protested vehemently, grabbing onto the balustrade, and insisting that he be put to death immediately. One minister did not object, but another intervened to defend Qu's character and admonish the emperor.

“Depictions of peace and prosperity also served the political needs of the court. Paintings like Zhang Zeduan's “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” or Li Song's Knickknack Peddlar could be read by emperors as evidence of the success or their governments.

Three Perfections and Scholar-Official Painting

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ The life of the educated man involved more than study for the civil service examinations and service in office. Many took to refined pursuits such as collecting antiques or old books and practicing the arts — especially poetry writing, calligraphy, and painting (“the three perfections”). For many individuals these interests overshadowed any philosophical, political, or economic concerns; others found in them occasional outlets for creative activity and aesthetic pleasure. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer ]

In the Song period the engagement of the elite with the arts led to extraordinary achievement in calligraphy and painting, especially landscape painting. But even more people were involved as connoisseurs. A large share of the informal social life of upper-class men was centered on these refined pastimes, as they gathered to compose or criticize poetry, to view each other’s treasures, or to patronize young talents.

left Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “During the middle of the Northern Song scholars began to take up painting as one of the arts of the gentleman, viewing it as comparable to poetry and calligraphy as means for self expression. Brushwork in painting, by analogy to brushwork in calligraphy, was believed to express a person's moral character. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, /=]

“The scholars who took up painting generally preferred to use more individualistic and less refined styles of brushwork. These styles were relatively easier to master by those already familiar with the brush from calligraphy, and did not require the years of exacting training needed to succeed as a professional or court artist. /=\

“The eminent poet and statesman Su Shi (1037-1101) explicitly rejected the attempt to capture appearance as beneath the scholar. Paintings should be understated, not flashy. His painting of Rock and Old Tree, executed with a dry brush, exhibits rough qualities and does not aim at pleasure. The painting is more akin to an exercise aiming to improve and develop calligraphic skill than the sorts of paintings done by contemporary court painters. Emphasizing subjectivity, Su Shi said that painting and poetry share a single goal, that of effortless skill. /=\

“Scholar painters were not necessarily amateur painters, and many scholars painted in highly polished styles. This was particularly true in the case of paintings of people and animals, where scholar-painters developed the use of the thin line drawing but did not in any real sense avoid "form likeness" or strive for awkwardness, the way landscapists often did. One of the first literati to excel as a painter of people and animals was Li Konglin in the late Northern Song. A friend of Su Shi and other eminent men of the period, he also painted landscapes and collected both paintings and ancient bronzes and jades. Figures done with a thin line, rather than a modulated one, were considered plainer and more suitable for scholar painters.” /=\

Southern Song Painting

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “After remnants of the Song court moved the south and established its capital in Hangzhou, Gaozong (Zhao Gou, 1107-1187), the first emperor of the Southern Song, actively searched for artists in an effort to reconstruct the court painting academy. He also strove to reassemble an imperial collection from the scattered works of painting and calligraphy, resulting in the quick rise and continued development of artistic activities in the Southern Song. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]


“Despite being troubled by warfare, Gaozong recommenced the collection of painting and calligraphy masterpieces; once the Song-Jin treaty was signed, he also began reacquiring the artefacts lost from Bianjing of Northern Song from official markets. By the Shaoxing period the number of masterpieces in the Song imperial collection was already a match to that of Zhenho and Xuanho reigns of Northern Song. Gaozong was very tolerant about artistic styles, which resulted in a high variety of artistic styles coming from imperial painters of the Southern Song academy. \=/

“The court re-assembled the Painting Academy and searched far and wide for artists of talent. Under the leadership of the imperial clan, court artists engaged in the task of decorating and painting palaces and temple buildings as well as walls and screens for government offices. Following the achievements of the ancients in such subjects as landscapes and figures, flowers and animals, and ruled-line buildings, these artists developed even more refined, lyrical, and painterly manners. \=/

“The composition of landscape paintings, for example, went from the full monumental scenes of the Northern Song to the one-corner arrangements of the Southern Song, expressing a new visual aesthetic of scenery viewed as both far and near, dense and expansive, open and closed, and high and low. Bird-and-flower painting went from the full compositions of the Northern Song with their feeling of animals in Nature to the selection of more intimate scenes, using close-up and realistic techniques to describe a branch of blossoms, a single bird or animal, or a few clumps of grass and insects, for instance. Brushwork tends to be more reserved and suggestive but still with strokes rich in expression, simplifying the complexity of Nature while expressing the unique features of the artist complemented by dramatic applications of monochrome ink. In addition, the reciprocal fusion of poetry, painting, and calligraphy formed a paradigm that was emulated by later generations.” \=/

Southern Song (1127-1279) Art History Book

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Supplements to the Records about Paintings” by Deng Chun of Song dynasty, “records the art history of Chinese painting which contains 10 volumes and is written by Deng Chun. It was intended to be a supplement work to Record about Painting by Guo Ruoxu of Northern Song Dynasty, and was therefore entitled Supplements to the Records about Paintings. It records news and knowledge about paintings during the 93 years from about paintings lasting for 93 years from the 7th year of Xining period of Nothern Song Dynasty (1074) to the 3rd year of Qiandao period of Southern Song Dynasty. The first seven volumes contain biographical information about 219 artists. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, from the “Encyclopedia of Painting”, complied by Wang Yuanzhen of Ming dynasty between 1590 and 1591 \=/]

Volumes one to five list the artists in the order of their social position, being respectively Huizong Emperor, members of the royal family and noblemen, the wealthy and talented, gentrified commoners, Taoists and monks, descendents of official families and women, and eunuchs. Volumes six and seven categorize artworks by their themes, including spiritual beings, character portraits, landscapes, floral and birds, fauna, architecture and vehicles, plants and vegetables, and scenery and miscellaneous paintings, and also contain the records of biographies and artistic expertise of art school artists and professional artists. Volume eight contains an index of selected private collections seen by the author. Volumes nine and ten are miscellaneous essays by the author, expressing his artistic views and recording miscellaneous activities of art schools during the Song Dynasty. \=/

“Deng Chun had emphasized on the training and nurturing of artists, and proposed "painting is the ultimate expression of literature"; he admired literati paintings with an "Spirit feeling" and objected to the "xuanhe style" of artistic realism.” One “page shows Deng Chun's theory of "painting is the ultimate expression of literature". While not all literati were able to paint or enjoyed painting, it was Deng Chun's view that: it would be a rare thing for a good writer to be unable to paint, and also a rare thing for a poor writer to be a good artist. \=/

“Manual of Plum Blossom Painting”

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: The “Manual of Plum Blossom Painting” by Song Boren of the Song dynasty “comprises of two volumes and was drawn by Song Boren, of Southern Song Dynasty. It was initially a compilation of drawings published on wooden plates in the 2nd year of Jiaxi period of Southern Song Dynasty (1238). Song Boren had the style name "Qizhi" with the sobriquet "Xueyen", and was a native of Guangping (some say Houzhou); he had served as an official of the Salt Transportation Bureau during the Jiaxi era (1237~1240). Song Boren was an expert plum blossom artist and referred to himself as a "plum blossom fanatic"; he had built a pagodas and a nursery at home, and had personally planted plum trees. He had often been found wandering amongst the bamboo fences and straw huts, admiring the plum blossoms in their "bowing, rising, opening and closing". He completed more than 200 sketches of plum blossoms, and selected 100 of them for compilation in this book. [Source: Zhibuzuzhai imprint during Qianlong and Daoguang reigns (1736-1850), Qing dynasty]

“The book depicts plum blossoms in eight stages, from the first bud to final withering, and each stage was also given a logical and interesting title according to the various aspects of the plum blossom, so that the drawings correspond to the titles in an entertaining fashion, for example: four branches of buds, sixteen branches of small blossoms, eight branches of large blossoms, eight branches of blossoming, fourteen branches of full blossoming, twenty-eight branches of magnificence, sixteen branches of wilting, and six branches of fruiting. Each depiction of plum blossom is also accompanied by a five-character quatrains. The Song Dynasty vernacular referred to portraits as "Xishen" (character resemblances), and Song Boren had therefore given the book the title Manual of Plum Blossom Painting.

“The artistic strokes used in the book are concise and unrestrained, capturing realistically all aspects of the plum blossom, whether they be old and bald branches or young and beautiful buds. The carving of the wood plate was also quick and sharp, well matching the style of the author. The purposes for this book were on the one hand to provide first learners of plum blossom sketching with examples for imitation, and on the other hand, according to the preface written by the author himself, to also "entertain gentlemen of refined tastes". This book is the earliest surviving book of drawings published on plates in China, and is also a representative work on plum-blossom painting since Song Dynasty.” \=/

Paintings by Ma Yuan

Immortal riding a dragon by Ma Yuan

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: Ma Yuan (fl. 1190-1224) was a court master of painting in the reigns of Emperors Guangzong and Ningzong, often illustrating the poetry of Ningzong's empress, surnamed Yang (also known as Yang Meizi). Based on the contents of the poem at the top of this painting, we learn it is a festive banquet scene on the evening of the Lantern Festival in the first lunar month. The calligraphy of Empress Yang's inscription at the top is full and dignified, belonging to her late style. \=/[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Imperial Banquet by Lantern Light” Ma Yuan (hanging scroll, ink and light colors on silk, 111.9 x 53.5 centimeters): “The branches of pine and plum trees in this work seem to appear and disappear in the light mist of an early spring day. The interior of the hall is brightly lit and set up with a red curtain, standing screen, and long table. Several officials clasp their hands making salutations, and to the side are female attendants holding gilt pots as well as cups and plates. Outside the building, in the courtyard, female palace musicians and dancers put on a show. Judging from the form of architecture, this appears to describe a palace hall in the Southern Song imperial city. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Egrets on a Snowy Bank” by Ma Yuan, (hanging scroll, ink and light colors on silk, 59 x 37.6 centimeters): Ma Yuan, of Shansi ancestry, resided in the capital of Hangchow. Serving as Painter-in-Attendance in the Southern Sung, he specialized in landscapes, birds-and-flowers, and figures, being especially accomplished in the former. Ma Yuan has reduced the elements of this painting to a dramatic contrast between black and white to suggest the penetrating cold of winter. In other words, Ma used dark ink to represent the rocks and trees, while the areas indicating snow have been left blank. By a bank are three egrets behind the rocks, while another stands to the side at the edge of the water. Ma Yuan almost always edited the scenes in his paintings to suggest the most with the least. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Paintings by Guo Xi

Guo Xi (ca. 1020 -ca. 1090) was a famous landscape painter and court painter. He once wrote: "wonderfully lofty are these heavenly mountains, inexhaustible in their mystery. In order to grasp their creations, one must love them utterly and never cease wandering among them, storing impressions one by one in the heart." One of his most famous paintings,“Early Spring,” dated 1072, is in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Guo Xi was the preeminent landscape painter of the late eleventh century. Although he continued the Li Cheng (919–967) idiom of "crab-claw" trees and "devil-face" rocks, Guo Xi's innovative brushwork and use of ink are rich, almost extravagant, in contrast to the earlier master's severe, spare style. [Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Guo Xi left significant writings on the philosophy and technique of landscape painting. On why landscapes were such an important subject in early Chinese painting, he wrote: "A virtuous man takes delight in landscapes so that in a rustic retreat he may nourish his nature, amid the carefree play of streams and rocks, he may take delight, that he might constantly meet in the country fishermen, woodcutters, and hermits, and see the soaring of cranes and hear the crying of monkeys. The din of the dusty world and the locked-in-ness of human habitations are what human nature habitually abhors; on the contrary, haze, mist, and the haunting spirits of the mountains are what the human nature seeks, and yet can rarely find. " /=\

“Old Trees, Level Distance” is Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) painting by Guo Xi. Dated to 1080, it is a handscroll; ink and color on silk (35.6 centimeters × 104.4 centimeters).According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Old Trees, Level Distance” compares closely in brushwork and forms to “Early Spring.” In both paintings, landscape forms simultaneously emerge from and recede into a dense moisture-laden atmosphere: rocks and distant mountains are suggested by outlines, texture strokes, and ink washes that run into one another to create an impression of wet blurry surfaces. Guo Xi describes his technique in his painting treatise Linquan gaozhi (Lofty Ambitions in Forests and Streams): "After the outlines are made clear by dark ink strokes, use ink wash mixed with blue to retrace these outlines repeatedly so that, even if the ink outlines are clear, they appear always as if they had just come out of the mist and dew."

20080321-Gui Xi Early Spring Wash U.jpg
Early Spring by Guo Xi

Paintings by Li Song

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Watching the Tide on a Moonlit Night” by Li Song, ca. 1170-1255 (album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 22.3 x 22 centimeters): This painting depicts a scene of watching the tide enter the mouth of the Qiantang River on the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival. A splendid two-story pavilion with a single hip-and-gable roof stands majestically at the right, with no walls on the four sides of the upper level, making it ideal for appreciating the distant view. The wooden elements to protect the hip-and-gable siding, such as the weatherboard and gable-side pendants and ornaments, are all finely painted with gold outlining. In front of the building by the river is a large moon-viewing terrace with a winding corridor; rockeries and palm trees also dot the courtyard inside. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The beautiful scenery of the Qiantang River and West Lake around the capital of Lin'an (Hangzhou) were chosen as sites for constructing palace buildings and gardens, the natural views there often playing an important role. On this painting is an inscription by Empress Yang, quoting from the poetry of Su Shi in his "Watching the Tide on the Mid-Autumn Festival," and her square "Kungua" seal. \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Knick-knack Peddler and Children Playing” by Li Song (album leaf, ink and light colors on silk, 25.8 x 27.6 centimeters): This painting describes an old knick-knack peddler with his vast assortment of goods as a matron with a group of young children approaches him in excitement. The carriers on either side of the peddler's shoulder pole are divided into six levels holding an array of items, foods, and toys. Some even have labels to identify them, including "Immortal Scripture," "Writing," "Shandong Yellow Rice Wine," and "Sour Vinegar." Among the branches on the left is the artist's signature that reads, "Painted by Li Song in the gengwu year of the Jiading reign (1201)," and on the trunk of the tree is another inscription in small characters for "300 items." Using children from a village family as the main characters, Li Song has here portrayed an interesting scene from life that is full of emotion. As a result, this work is indispensable in the study of genre painting and folk life in the Southern Song period. \=/

"Along the River During the Qingming Festival"

“Along the River During the Qingming Festival” (also known as “Up the River During Qingming” and and “The Spring Festival Along the River”) is arguably China’s most famous painting. A handscroll painting by the Song dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145), it captures the daily life of people and the landscape of the capital, Bianjing, today's Kaifeng, from the Northern Song period. Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “ This painting is considered one of the most valuable in Chinese art history for its high level of technical quality and the liveliness with which it portrays the myriad details of urban life. It is generally interpreted as portraying the city environs of Kaifeng, the Northern Song capital, and some of the surrounding countryside.” The painting is considered to be the most renowned work among all Chinese paintings and it has been called "China's Mona Lisa."

The theme is often said to celebrate the festive spirit and worldly commotion at the Qingming Festival, rather than the holiday's ceremonial aspects, such as tomb sweeping and prayers. Successive scenes reveal the lifestyle of all levels of the society from rich to poor as well as different economic activities in rural areas and the city, and offer glimpses of period clothing and architecture. As an artistic creation, the piece has been revered and court artists of subsequent dynasties made re-interpretive versions, each following the overall composition and the theme of the original but differing in details and technique. Over the centuries, the Qingming scroll was collected and kept among numerous private owners, before it eventually returned to public ownership. The painting was a particular favorite of Puyi, the Last Emperor, who took the Song dynasty original with him when he left Beijing. It was re-purchased in 1945 and kept at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City. The Song dynasty original and the Qing versions, in the Beijing and Taipei Palace Museums respectively, are regarded as national treasures and are exhibited only for brief periods every few years. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Zhang Zeduan's "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" from the early 12th century in the late Northern Song period is universally recognized as one of the great masterpieces of Song genre painting. It depicts scenes of prosperity along the banks of the Bian River in Kaifeng, the Northern Song capital. With its realistic techniques in painting and legendary history in collecting, the scroll not only captured the attention of connoisseurs and collectors through the ages but also later became the focus of art-historical research in modern times. Often with numerous opinions but little agreement among scholars, "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" has even become a formal subject of study. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Zhang Zeduan (style name Zhengdao), a native of Dongwu, was skilled at painting vehicles and boats, markets and bridges, and buildings of all types...The title of this painting on the subject of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" derives in part from Commentary on the Book of Changes: "With ease it is easily understood, and with brevity it is free of labor." In other words, something is easy to understand when its content is plain and straightforward. The artist here therefore probably intended for the viewer to grasp the full scope of prosperity in the capital by simplifying elements of the painting. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

bridge in "Along the River During the Qingming Festival"

Content of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival"

The Song original by Zhang Zeduan at the Palace Museum, Beijing is 25.5 centimeters in height and 5.25 meters long. Within the painting are 814 humans (of whom only 20 are women), 28 boats, 60 animals, 30 buildings, 20 vehicles, 8 sedan chairs, and 170 trees. The countryside and the densely populated city are the two main sections in the picture, with the river meandering through the entire length. In addition to the shops and diners, there are inns, temples, private residences, and official buildings varying in grandeur and style, from huts to mansions with grand front- and backyards. People and commodities are transported by various modes: wheeled wagons, beasts of labor (in particular, a large number of donkeys and mules), sedan chairs, and chariots. The river is packed with fishing boats and passenger-carrying ferries, with men at the river bank, pulling the larger ships. In the famous bridge scene the crew of an oncoming boat have not yet fully lowered sails of their boat and are in danger of crashing into the bridge [Source: Wikipedia +]

The right section is the rural area of the city. There are crop fields and unhurried rural folk—predominately farmers, goatherds, and pig herders—in bucolic scenery. A country path broadens into a road and joins with the city road. The left half is the urban area, which eventually leads into the city proper with the gates. Many economic activities, such as people loading cargoes onto the boat, shops, and even a tax office, can be seen in this area. People from all walks of life are depicted: peddlers, jugglers, actors, paupers begging, monks asking for alms, fortune tellers and seers, doctors, innkeepers, teachers, millers, metalworkers, carpenters, masons, and official scholars from all ranks. +

Outside the city proper there are businesses of all kinds, selling wine, grain, secondhand goods, cookware, bows and arrows, lanterns, musical instruments, gold and silver, ornaments, dyed fabrics, paintings, medicine, needles, and artifacts, as well as many restaurants. The vendors (and in the Qing revision, the shops themselves) extend all along the great bridge, called the Rainbow Bridge. Where the great bridge crosses the river is the center and main focus of the scroll. A great commotion animates the people on the bridge. A boat approaches at an awkward angle with its mast not completely lowered, threatening to crash into the bridge. The crowds on the bridge and along the riverside are shouting and gesturing toward the boat. Someone near the apex of the bridge lowers a rope to the outstretched arms of the crew below. +

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of version of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" attributed to Zhang Zeduan in their collection; “Many of these details are roughly corroborated by Song dynasty writings, principally the Dongjing Meng Hua Lu, which describes many of the same features of life in the capital...The version here traditionally attributed to Zhang includes such scenes starting from the right as a rustic countryside followed by a colorful bridal procession, the main arched bridge with a market, areas surrounding the city walls, and various bridges and waterfront activities. The method of painting the earth and trees differs markedly from those of the original by Zhang, and the brushwork here is somewhat weaker. The coloring is also more decorative and the rendering of space appears flatter, suggesting an imitation from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) instead. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei]

boat about to crash in "Along the River During the Qingming Festival"

Copies of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival"

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: With its realistic techniques in painting and legendary history in collecting, the scroll not only captured the attention of connoisseurs and collectors through the ages but also later became the focus of art-historical research in modern times. Often with numerous opinions but little agreement among scholars, "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" has even become a formal subject of study. Artists likewise adopted different perspectives, such as imitation and copying, leaving behind the innumerable versions extant today. Scholars believe that approximately a hundred versions exist nowadays in private collections and major museums around the world, demonstrating just how much influence "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" has exerted in Chinese art over the years.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“In the collection of the National Palace Museum are eight handscroll paintings on the subject of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival." They can be divided into three categories: one attributed to the original Song dynasty artist, Zhang Zeduan (fl. early 12th century); one attributed to the Ming dynasty painter Qiu Ying (ca. 1494-1552); and the other by Qing dynasty (1644-1911) court artists. In terms of structure and content, the first two ultimately trace back to Zhang Zeduan's original now in the Palace Museum, Beijing. Though copies or forgeries, they include new urban elements and period features that yield different appearances compared to the prototypical Song version. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The handscroll attributed to Qiu Ying includes several scenes that differ from the other versions attributed to Qiu Ying, such as the stage performance, willow shooting, acrobatics, tightrope walking, and military review. In terms of the details for the boat race on Lake Jinming, not only are the buildings quite ornate and beautiful, the figural tiles on the eave ridges extend with exaggeration to emphasize the sumptuous and majestic quality of palace architecture. The activities are also unusually raucous, such as the imperial boat race to capture pennants, dance scene, and other past-times. The bright coloring here likewise differentiates this work from the others, including the plentiful use of mineral blue and green, cinnabar, gamboge, whitewash, and violet to create a strongly decorative and beautiful style for the painting surface. Other details, such as the technique for rendering the water ripples and the formulaic layering of the landscape forms, combine to suggest an illusory feeling to the space. Thus, this painting appears to be a conscious emulation of the Qiu Ying style by a Suzhou workshop artist in the Ming dynasty. \=/

“The Qing court version of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" is an 18th-century collaborative effort on the part of five artists at the Painting Academy: Chen Mei (1694-1745), Sun Hu, Jin Kun, Dai Hong, and Cheng Zhidao. The content of the painting is all-inclusive and its production refined and meticulous, integrating the specialties of the individual artists to rival the beauty of Zhang Zeduan's original. As for Shen Yuan's version of around the same period, it may differ from the Qing court painting in terms of material and coloring but throughout is almost identical in layout, objects, vehicles, and figures, offering a glimpse into how large handscroll projects were handled at the Qing Painting Academy.” \=/

Another Qing era handscroll “represents a collaborative effort on the part of five Painting Academy artists active in the eighteenth century at the Qing court of the Qianlong emperor. The figural scenes are especially numerous and detailed, making this painting stand out among the various versions of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival." This scroll can be divided into several major parts, including the rustic setting at the beginning (on the right), arched bridge and market, city wall and surroundings, and Lake Jinming. In addition to the bustling figures and packed shops, there are also untrammeled literati garden settings and a magnificent imperial garden, creating for a fascinating and visually pleasing atmosphere that makes this painting a microcosm of life in China at the time. The architectural elements accord with the rules of perspective, and the buildings and streets are all laid out in an orderly fashion, the use of proportion and distance likewise meticulously handled with great precision. Western-style architecture is also evident. The handling of brush and ink is highly refined and the coloring beautiful, making this the finest of all the "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" scrolls in the National Palace Museum collection. \=/

“Shen Yuan's composition and arrangement of the scenes in this painting are almost identical to those in the Qing dynasty court version of "Along the River During the Qingming Festival." It differs only in terms of certain details, such as the scene of crying by the grave during tomb sweeping near the beginning of the rustic scene at the right and the inclusion of an inn and shops by the side of the arched bridge in the middle part. There are also some discrepancies in terms of the shop names as well as the structure and painting method of the architecture, the arrangement of the garden scene in the top-scholar's mansion likewise slightly different. This scroll is done on paper and mostly in ink with only a few washes of ochre added to the outlines of the figures and buildings to give it a fresh and elegant manner. The rendering of the bridge beams, buildings, and figures is exceptionally precise and orderly, making this a fine example from the Painting Academy of the Qing dynasty court.” \=/

In 2014, Chinese artist and photographer Dai Xiang exhibited his reinterpretations of “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” at the 2014 Lianzhoufoto Festival. According to ChinaSmack: “By inserting modern scenes into an ancient backdrop, Dai Xiang cleverly depicted numerous “incidents” in recent years across China, including popular topics such as chengguan, forced demolition, prostitution, gutter oil, among many others. Netizens praised his work as an embodiment of modern Chinese society.” [Source: ChinaSmack, November 23, 2014]

"Picture for the New Year" by Zhao Chang

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Picture for the New Year” by Zhao Chang, ca. late 10th century-early 11th century, (Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 103.8 x 51.2 centimeters (with inscription: 135 x 51.6 centimeters): “"Picture for the New Year" ascribed to the Song dynasty artist Zhao Chang(ca. late 10th century-early 11th century) is in a unique category among paintings in the collection of the National Palace Museum. Its composition features a highly compressed field of depth in which layers build up with rocks on a slope surrounded by dense flowering plants and trees that overlap and cover the entire surface. In this close-up scene, a garden setting in nature is transformed into a fascinating pattern rich and vibrant with decorative quality...The style of brushwork here actually appears closer to the manner of Ming dynasty (1368-1644) court painting. Thus, even though this is not an original by Zhao Chang, it still fully reflects the dazzling beauty of a type of painting known as "palace-covering flowers." [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

In Guo Ruoxu's (fl. 11th century) Record of Experiences in Painting from the Song dynasty is the following description of a type of painting known as "palace-covering flowers": On twin panels of fine silk, Xu Xi [fl. ca. early 10th century] of Jiangnan and his generation had painted clusters of blossoms and layers of rocks accompanied by herbs and sprouts interspersed with the marvels of birds, wasps, and cicadas. The works were then presented to [the ruler] Li Yu to be hung as decoration in palaces. They were hence known as "palace-covering flowers" and also sometimes called "hall-decking flowers." The intent behind their arrangement is majestic as well as orderly and precise, but many of them do not capture a lifelike or natural manner, which is why viewers often do not appreciate them very much. Judging from the above, the painting on display here accords well with this record and can serve as a representative example of "palace-covering flowers." The azurite blue applied to much of the background also increases the rich and gorgeous atmosphere of the surface. In the Museum collection is another work attributed to the Five Dynasties painter Xu Xi, "Wealth and Honor in the Halls of Jade," which also belongs to this style. \=/

“Paintings in the style of "palace-covering flowers" were evidently made to decorate and adorn palaces and halls. In addition to their patterned compositions, fine brushwork and opulent colors are also their definitive characteristics. "Picture for the New Year" uses the painting technique of outlines filled with colors, whereby forms are first outlined and then filled with washes of color. The exquisite brushwork is made even more interesting through the use of some looser applications, allowing the brush to flow naturally. The addition of such bright colors as rouge, cinnabar red, pure white, malachite green, and azurite blue makes this opulent and majestic painting stand out even more.

The scenery here can generally be divided into three levels, the first consisting of the slope, narcissi, slender rock, and bamboo in the foreground, the second for the garden rock in the center, and the third for the myriad blossoms and plants in the background. The auspicious color of red sets the tone here and presents a festive atmosphere to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The multi-petals of the red plum blossoms and the monthly rose feature pink hues of rouge washes on pure white pigment. The camellia blossoms are composed of brilliant red rouge washes on cinnabar red, and the red calyxes of the white plum blossoms are also done with a mix of vermilion. The red blossoms are set off by green leaves, which were done with an application of vegetable green combining gamboges and cyanine with an addition of mineral green washes to give them greater brightness. If the painting was only opulent, it might just seem to shimmer on the surface, but the use of ink and ochre for the garden rocks and slope creates a stabilizing force.

Inscriptions on "Picture for the New Year" by Zhao Chang

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of the inscriptions on “Picture for the New Year” by Zhao Chang: “The sheet of paper mounted above the painting features an inscription by the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) of the Qing dynasty. In it, he mentions that the spatial arrangement and abruptly cut-off vegetation suggest that the painting was damaged in the past and then trimmed. Perhaps once having been larger, the work may have even been one in a series of screen paintings.

The inscription by Qianlong Emperor on the sheet of paper mounted above the painting reads; “In musing on its composition, the lower arrangement is clear. The narcissi now take up half, and above the lake rock is about five (Chinese) inches. The flowers are dense with almost no background. There is no room for the force of the branches to extend. The methods of presentation by the masters are not like this. The painting was originally larger and probably had places of damage. They were cut off by an unscrupulous merchant, and then a fake signature was added. So this is no longer the original complete appearance.”

In the lower right of the painting are two spurious "Servitor Chang" signatures done in different styles of calligraphy, evidently not by the same person. The lower one had apparently been previously hidden, which is probably why another was added, creating an interesting feature for this painting.

20080303-wu zhen 1280-1354 plum and bamboio u wash.jpg
Plum and Bamboo by Wu Zhen

Northern Song (960-1127) Calligraphy

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “In terms of calligraphy, the rise of scholar-calligraphers in the Northern Sung resulted in the closer relationship between this art form and the artist, making it an ideal form for further expressing ideas and feelings. Many masters of Northern Sung calligraphy were quite knowledgeable and talented intellectuals, as calligraphers used the establishment of personal styles that came into fashion to write their own poetry and give expression to the main contents, with the exception of official documents, of course. In addition, textual verification through colophons, calligraphy theory, and casual letters became increasingly popular and also fully reflected the rich culture of life at the time. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Su Shih's "The Cold Food Observance" (ca. 1084-1086), Huang T'ing-chien's "Poem on the Hall of Pines and Wind" (ca. 1102), and Mi Fu's "On Sichuan Silk" (1088) are important works of poetry composed and calligraphed by these three great masters of Northern Sung calligraphy. These three handscrolls all employ the most appropriate means of expression and personalized running script for the calligraphy, the contents of the poetry being related to the vicissitudes in the lives of these calligraphers. The expressions of the calligraphers shown here also reflect the emotions and thoughts at the time when the calligraphy was done. \=/

“Su Shih's description in "The Cold Food Observance" ranges from the external illness of Su and the poor conditions of his surroundings in banishment to the remorse and conflict he felt at heart while living in exile, revealing a deep set of emotions. The calligraphy is therefore an attempt to transform the conditions in the poetry into concrete manifestations of imagery conveyed by the characters. As a result, the size of the characters gradually goes from small to large. The density also ranges from expansive to compact as the movement of the brush gradually quickened pace and became exaggerated. At times, the brushwork is light and other times heavy, sometimes fleeting and sometimes resigned. The ink so dark and thick that it seeped through the paper, with traces of brushwork between the strokes like silk threads echoing each other. The balance of the lines follows the angle of the characters, shifting to and fro and giving the entire work a complex and rich rhythm and beauty. \=/

"Poem on the Hall of Pines and Wind" presents somewhat similar circumstances, a touch of sadness within a mood of joy. Taking the opportunity to narrate a passage from a trip to the Wu-ch’ang Western Hills, Huang T'ing-chien fondly remembered a friend who had also traveled to this location, expressing a strong desire that his friend could share the beautiful scenery with him. Finally, Huang hoped to be able to free himself from the entanglement of his current situation and go with friends together on a boating trip. As he did the calligraphy, Huang’s wave-like features and large diagonally falling strokes, the pressing and lifting of the brush, and turns in the brushwork are found everywhere within the manner of regular script. The transformations are extremely well-handled, and the light stops and gradual lifting of the brush have a grace and bearing in a harmonious manner that shows Huang T’ing-chien’s aloofness from worldly concerns in later years and a self satisfaction at heart. \=/

“"On Sichuan Silk" is a handscroll that includes eight poems on six subjects in a variety of formats, including five- and seven-character archaic, truncated, and regulated verse. The entire scroll is composed of 556 characters in a total of 71 lines, being a masterpiece by Mi Fu at the age of 37. On one hand, the contents of the poetry reveal Mi Fu’s ambitions as an official and his praise of the literary talents of the recipient of the scroll. On the other hand, Mi Fu, using a precious piece of Sichuan silk, performed calligraphy to the best of his abilities, moving the brush both quick and slow, sometimes light and fleeting while at other times steady and heavier. The concealment and expressiveness of the brushwork was unconstrained by conventions as characters appear in a variety of positions with both force and beauty. Even within the same stroke or character, one can find different calligraphic methods used, thereby revealing Mi Fu's skill at an infinite variety of forms as well as his calligraphic expression that differs from that of Su Shih and Huang T'ing-chien.” \=/

Poem and Calligraphy by Emperor Hui-tsung

Emperor Huizong (Hui-tsung)

Emperor Hui-tsung (1082-1135; r. 1100-1125) was regarded as an excellent poet, calligrapher, and painter. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Hui-tsung was the eighth emperor of the Sung dynasty and one of the greatest patrons of art to sit on the throne. When soldiers of the Chin captured the Sung capital of K'ai-feng in 1126, Hui-tsung was captured, along with most of the imperial family and treasures. Though he was one of the first emperors in Chinese history to be considered a gifted artist in his own right, he has also been blamed for the neglect of state. During the Hsuan-ho era (1119-1125), he gathered together the most gifted artists and promoted the formal study of the arts at court. As an ardent supporter of both calligraphy and painting, the art produced at court featured a rare fusion of both technical expertise and spiritual refinement.” [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

On a handscroll, ink on silk (27.2 x 265.9 centimeters) by Emperor Hui-tsung, the National Palace Museum, Taipei says: “This particular work reveals his style of calligraphy known to later generations as "slender gold." Indeed, his brushwork was not only slender, but also so precise and refined that it looks as precious as gold. While many accounts concerning the origin of this style exist, it is known that Hui-tsung studied the regular script of such T'ang masters as Ch'u Sui-liang (596-658), Hsueh Chi (649-713), and Hsueh Yao and then imitated the late style of Huang T'ing-chien (1045-1105). The thin and tensile qualities which give the script its name are similar to the outer strokes painting orchid and bamboo leaves. In other words, the brush touches lightly and is retracted with force, producing knobby places at the turns. Consequently, despite the thin and stiff features, it has an even, light and elegant feeling. The structure appears balanced and refined and is visually and poetically pleasing. Although the calligraphy here appears strict and regulated, it is also free from many of the conventions of other calligraphic scripts.

Southern Song (1127-1279) Calligraphy

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: In his early years the first Southern Song Emperor Gaozong (personal name Zhao Gou) studied the calligraphy of his father, Emperor Huizong of the late Northern Song, specializing somewhat in the styles of such famous Northern Song scholar-calligraphers as Huang Tingjian and Mi Fu. Later, Gaozong traced his studies back to the "Sage Calligrapher," Wang Xizhi, copying the brush methods of ancient masters from the Wei and Jin up to the Six Dynasties period. Gaozong consequently had an enormous impact on the practice of calligraphy at the Southern Song court. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The Diamond Sutra”, translated by Kumarajiva of Yao Qin dynasty and handwritten by Zhang Jizhi of Southern Song Dynasty in 1253, is fine example of religious calligraphy. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Transcription of sutras is a method method of accumulating merits in Buddhism, and was a favorite pastime of ancient literati from all ages; Zhang Jizhi of Southern Song Dynasty was one of the best well known. Zhang Jizhi (1185~1263) was a renowned calligrapher from the Southern Song Dynasty; he learned from Mi Fu and referred to Ouyang Xun and Yen Zhang Jizhi in creating his own calligraphy style. His writing was careful in structure and was known for the strength in his strokes. This Diamond Sutra was transcribed on July 18th in the first year of Baoyo period of the Southern Song Dynasty (1253), the characters are elegant and flowing. Although he had written in regular script, one can still sense a touch of the running script. \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Imperial Order Presented to Yue Fei” by Emperor Gaozong, 1107-1187, (handscroll, ink on paper, 36.7 x 61.5 centimeters): “In the autumn of 1137, during the early Southern Song, Yue Fei (1103-1142) led troops on an inspection tour of border defenses against the Jurchen of the Jin. Emperor Gaozong (r. 1127-1162) wrote this imperial missive in response to Yue Fei's report, praising and exhorting his steadfast loyalty to the country. This letter written in regular script also has elements of running script. The strokes and dots are refined, the bearing of characters quite elegant. Though it belongs to the category of an imperial decree and was written at a time of compelling military concern, the line spacing from beginning to end is consistent, fully revealing Gaozong's achievement in calligraphy. \=/

Gaozong, Imperial Order presented to Yue Fei

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Seven-character Truncated Verse” by Wu Ju. ca. 1145~50-1202~07) (hanging scroll, ink on silk, 98.6 x 55.3 centimeters): This is the earliest surviving work of calligraphy in the hanging scroll format, and it may have originally been part of a screen. The contents come from Cai Xiang's "Visiting Recluse Chen," the poetry reading, "Bridge-side weeping willows touch the blue stream; At the west end of North Bridge is the Gentleman's home. Upon arriving, it is unlike the world of people; The sun is warm, blossoms fragrant, and mountain birds chirping." There is some difference with the original poem, but the marvelous transcription of poetry here combines with a realm of ideals and remote distance. The character structure throughout is slanting and dense, the strokes being quite powerful. The spacing between the lines also echoes each other, much in the marvelous manner of Mi Fu's free and easy style. Wu Ju (style name Jufu, sobriquet Yunhe) was the son of Wu Yi, the younger brother of Gaozong's Empress Wu. His mother was the granddaughter of former Prime Minister Qin Kui. A master at calligraphy, Wu was later praised by Dong Qichang in the Ming dynasty as follows: "Among followers of Mi Fu's calligraphy, Wu Ju stands alone."

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of ''The Classic of Filial Piety'' in Painting and Calligraphy, anonymous, calligraphy originally attributed to Gaozong [1107-1187] and painting to Ma Hezhi [fl. 1131-1189], (Album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 28.4 x 35.9 centimeters: “This album originally was probably a long handscroll with alternating images and texts but later, due to extensive damage, was remounted into an album leaf format with painting and calligraphy separated. The paintings employ different settings to interpret the dual meaning of complete filial duty and loyalty to the ruler among people at different levels of society. The texts and images complement each other, fully expressing the intent behind the work of "expounding views in words for the virtuous ruler." Although the style of calligraphy is similar to that of Emperor Gaozong, it is probably from the hand of a writer in the Imperial Calligraphy Academy. The style of the painting, moreover, is completely unlike that of Ma Hezhi, with some of the landscape texturing being closer instead to that of Li Tang and Xiao Zhao. Nonetheless, the Song inscriptions on the endpiece are all authentic, so this album should perhaps be re-titled as an anonymous Song dynasty painting and calligraphy of The Classic of Filial Piety.” \=/

Image Sources: Guo Xi painting, University of Washington; Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2021

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.