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Title :Selections
Lady Wenji's Return to China (New Window)

Lady Wenji's Return to China
Attributed to Li Tang (ca 1070-after 1150), Song dynasty
Album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 51.1 x 31.6 cm

This album of paintings depicts in sequence the story of how the Eastern Han lady of talent Cai Wenji (162-229) was captured by nomads, her life among them, and her eventual release. A work of narrative art with a historical background comprising eighteen leaves altogether, each has a transcription of one of Cai's "Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute" at the top. Wang Duo (1592-1652) originally ascribed this album to the Tang dynasty painter Yan Liben (ca. 601-673), but the attribution nowadays has been revised on the basis of Hu Jing's later attribution from Addendum to Painting, Continued. Although not necessarily a work by Li Tang, the brushwork in the paintings is archaic yet the rendering realistic, making the album undoubtedly from the hand of an artist in the Southern Song Painting Academy. Each leaf has numerous areas of damage retouched by a later artist in the Ming dynasty.

Thirteen leaves have been selected for this exhibit. The titles for each, based on the contents depicted, are as follows: "Being Captured," "Being Married," "Nostalgia for Home," "Looking at the Stars," "Evening Thoughts," "Writing Home," "Giving Birth," "Raising Children," "Arrival of the Emissary," "Sending Off," "After the Departure," "On the Way Back," and "The Return Home." The other five leaves, having recently been displayed in the "Dynastic Renaissance" special exhibit, are reproduced here as enlarged pictures.

Further Reading (in Chinese):
Liu Fangju, "Jiedu Wenji gui Han tu (Interpreting 'Lady Wenji's Return to China')," in Danqing zhi jian: Mei de xiufu yu minghua luntan (Between Painting: The Restoration of Beauty and a Forum on Famous Paintings) (Taipei: National Palace Museum, 2010), pp. 125-148.

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  • Raising a Cup to the Moon in Jest (New Window) Raising a Cup to the Moon in Jest
    Attributed to Ma Yuan (fl. 1190-1222), Song dynasty
    Hanging scroll, ink and light colors on silk, 205.6 x 104.1 cm

    This work was inspired by Li Bo's famous line that reads, "I raise my cup to the bright moon. With my shadow, we are three." It depicts a scholar facing a mist-filled gorge and drinking with a goblet under the bright moon above. Large axe-cut strokes define the rocks throughout. The strong contrast in ink tones and mature technique indicate features of the Ma Yuan and Xia Gui school. Although the traditional title gives the painter as Ma Yuan, in the lower left is a signature that reads "Qinli" and the seal for "Zhong, Qinli," indicating that it actually came from the hand of Zhong Li, the famous Ming dynasty Zhe school artist.

    Zhong Li, style name Qinli, was a native of Shangyu in Zhejiang who served the court during the Chenghua and Hongzhi era (1465 to 1505). He learned from the style of Dai Jin and excelled at depicting the transformations of peaks in clouds and mists.
  • Snow Accumulated in Cold Mountains (New Window) Snow Accumulated in Cold Mountains
    Wu Wei (1459-1508), Ming dynasty
    Hanging scroll, ink on silk, 242.6 x 156.4 cm

    Wu Wei (style name Shiying, sobriquet Xiaoxian) was a native of Wuchang in Hubei. He excelled at painting figures and landscapes. After Dai Jin (1388-1462), he was the most important Zhe school painter. During the Chenghua and Hongzhi reigns, he served at the court and was awarded the title "First in Painting."

    This work depicts a scene of mountains covered with snow, the brushwork extremely strong and unrestrained, and the "flying white" broken ink lines and method of using blank areas effectively creating the idea of a realm of withered forests in a severe winter along with desolation and bleakness. The bent and huddled figure of the lofty scholar holding a staff makes his way along as he strives against the gusts of cold wind, as if echoing the metaphor of proceeding despite adversity.
  • The Four Elders (New Window)
    The Four Elders
    Xie Shichen (1488-after 1567), Ming dynasty
    Hanging scroll, ink and light colors on silk, 252.4 x 100 cm

    Xie Shichen (style name Sizhong, sobriquet Shuxian) was a native of Suzhou. Gifted at poetry and excelling at painting, in landscapes he studied the style of Shen Zhou and particularly enjoyed using large screens and monumental hanging scrolls, achieving much of the Zhe school robust style.

    This painting depicts idealized scenery of four sages from the Qin-Han period (Tang Bing, Cui Guang, Wu Shi, and Zhou Shu) living in reclusion at Mt. Shang in Shaanxi. Throughout the work, the brushwork is hoary, the ink revealing numerous transformations. The four figures in the painting are shown playing "weiqi" or strolling in leisure as clouds and mists rise, stream water flows, pine trees twist and turn, and deer roam at play. Along with the precipitous peaks, it gives the feeling of a world cut off from the outside, making it appear very much like a paradise especially for lofty recluses in reclusion.

  • Mountains High, Waters Long (New Window) Mountains High, Waters Long
    Shixi (1612-ca. 1673), Qing dynasty
    Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper, 332.1 x 127.8 cm

    Shixi (originally surnamed Liu, style name Jieqiu, sobriquet Kuncan) was a native of Wuling, Hunan. At the age of 27 he took the tonsure and became a Buddhist monk, going to Nanjing and studying under Juelang daosheng. He first lived at the Baoen Temple and then at the Youqi Temple on Niushou Mountain. The brushwork in Shixi's landscapes is free and natural; his scenes reveal a realm of profound depth. Along with the monks Jianjiang, Shitao, and Bada shanren, Shixi is known as one of the "Four Great Monk Painters" of the early Qing.

    This painting (donated by Mr. Chang Chun) depicts Tiandu Peak at Huangshan. The mountain soars to the sky with colors to express the hanging waterfall. In the thatched pavilion at its foot are two men leisurely enjoying the scenery. Veils of clouds swell up and mists twist through the vast valley, as compelling and awesome as the billows of a storm.

 
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