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Painting

Scholar
Anonymous, Sung dynasty (960-1279)
Album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 29 x 27.8 cm
First leaf from the album "Li-tai hua-fu chi-ts'e"

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In this painting, a scholar is shown seated on a lounge bed in deep thought. He holds a brush as if taking a rest from his studies or as is about ready to write something. At his side, a servant is pouring wine. Behind is a screen upon which is painted a sandy shore and waterfowl. Hung over the painting is a portrait of the scholar himself, making this work an interesting "painting within a painting" and also a "double portrait." Several objects are displayed in this setting, including a low table, upon which is placed lute, chessboard, calligraphy, paintings, and various antique vessels. These symbolized the status and traditional leisure activities of the scholar in traditional China starting from the Sung dynasty. Though perhaps meant to evoke the image of China's sage-calligrapher Wang Hsi-chih (ca. 303-ca. 361), in the Southern Sung (1127-1279), it was already popular to "burn incense, drink tea, hang paintings, arrange flowers" and engage in other such refined activities. If so, then this custom may have begun as early as the late Northern Sung.

The lines in this painting are delicate and fluid, forming a fine and descriptive style. The screen painting of birds and flowers is unusual here, since most such "paintings within a painting" include landscapes instead. This work not only reflects the popularity of reeds and waterfowl in the late Northern Sung, but also the style popular in the reign of Emperor Hui-tsung. (r. 1101-1125). This work was once in the collections of Hui-tsung and Kao-tsung of the Sung as well as Kao-tsung of the Ch'ing (r. 1736-1795), who once commissioned the court artist Yao Wen-han to compose a similar version representing him as the scholar here.
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