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When Emperor Taizong (reigned 626-649) of the Tang dynasty was still Prince Qin, he established the Institute of Literary Studies, recruiting erudite Confucian scholars to serve as academicians. After ascending the throne, Taizong ordered the imperial artist Yan Liben (circa 601-674) to depict the eighteen scholars that he had gathered and to illustrate his virtue in respecting men of learning. Later artists often took delight in citing from this record to create their own interpretations of this subject. This set of four paintings was catalogued by the Qing imperial editors of Shiju baoji sanbian as "'The Eighteen Scholars,' anonymous, Song dynasty." Reflecting a painting format that evolved from this theme, the set of hanging scrolls shows scholars engaged in the pursuit of elegant activities associated with the zither, go, calligraphy, and painting, thus combining it with the artistic cultivation and lofty aspiration associated with the "Four Arts of the Scholar."

The anonymous artist here distributed lofty elegant gatherings in various garden settings under tall pine, willow, paulownia, and locust trees as marble and mottled-bamboo railings cross through the backgrounds. The scholars are shown in such leisurely pursuits as the burning of incense, playing go, opening texts, and appreciating a painting. All four scrolls feature fine brushwork and vivid coloring. The main figures, with dignified countenances, appear in a variety of poses with differences in their status clearly evident. Drapery lines were rendered using fine yet strong and fluid "nail-head, rat's-tail" strokes. In addition to lake rocks and planters spread throughout the garden settings, there are also such furnishings in daily life as the daybed and armrest table, large table, drum stool, painting screen, carved lacquerware, porcelains and bronzes, and objects of the scholar's studio. All were carefully painted from life, revealing the classic style of the Ming court academy of painting. Judging from the objects depicted, this set of paintings probably dates to the middle to late Ming dynasty (circa 16th century).

Shen Defu (1578-1642) in Wanli yehuo bian wrote, "In the late Jiajing reign [1521-1567], the whole country was at peace. Scholar-gentlemen prospered and had gardens built. In time from teaching and entertaining, they also appreciated antiquities." Starting from the middle of the Ming dynasty, it became popular for members of the court, nobility, and scholar class to get together in garden gatherings. Through their appreciation and examination of calligraphy, painting, and antiquities, they created a way of life focusing on "leisurely elegance and an interest in antiquity." The relaxed and carefree mood of elegant scholar gatherings along with their aesthetics and fine taste formed a refined model that commoners also sought and yearned to imitate. This set of paintings illustrating "The Eighteen Scholars" reflects the ultimate in refinement and artistry found in the material culture of society at this time, making it an excellent illustration of aesthetics associated with the "appreciation of elegant pastimes" in the late Ming dynasty.