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Title: Artistic Innovation

Painting and Calligraphy Section

After the Southern Song established its capital in Hangzhou, 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.

Sitting on Rocks Gazing at Clouds (New window)

Sitting on Rocks Gazing at Clouds

Li Tang (ca. 1070-after 1150), Song dynasty
Album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 27.7 x 30 cm

In this work is an arrangement of more forms that distinguishes it from the one-corner compositions of many Southern Song landscape paintings, in which a large portion is left blank to suggest mist. Close examination of the painting, however, still clearly reveals a cleverly arranged diagonal composition. Based on this imaginary diagonal line, the upper left and lower right portions show an interesting relationship of contrasts between void and solid, respectively. Two figures in the lower right wear wide robes and dangle their feet in the water, admiring the beautiful scenery in the upper left.

The fine scenery here is filled with trees, the rugged cliffs painted with blue-and-green colors and ink washes, to which ochre has been added for variation. Delicately infused with a compelling realism of rocky texture in Li Tang's "Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys" is the exquisite sentiment of Zhao Lingrang's intimate scenery, making this not far removed from the characteristics of Northern Song landscape painting.

Quietly Listening to Soughing Pines (New window)

Quietly Listening to Soughing Pines

Ma Lin (ca. 1180-after 1256), Song dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 226.6 x 110.3 cm

In the upper right corner of this painting Emperor Lizong wrote the four characters for its title and also impressed two imperial seals for "Bingwu" and "Yushu." Also in the lower left is impressed the imperial collection seal "Treasure of the Qixi Hall." This evidence indicates that the painting was done no later than 1246.

In the foreground sits a lofty scholar wearing a gauze cap with his left leg half crossed and the other extended comfortably. With his chest partially exposed, his right hand lightly grasps his clothing as a flywhisk lies on the ground. The scholar concentrates on listening with all his attention, the pine needles and vines blowing in the strong wind, the sound of which seems to echo in the space of flowing water and surrounding peaks behind him.

The Qing emperor Gaozong (Qianlong) in his verse at the top of the work considered the figure in the painting as "especially appreciative of the wind in pines, taking great joy with each sound of the wind as if it were music," borrowing from the lines of Tao Hongjing in the Liang dynasty. Compared to the portrait of Emperor Lizong, there is also scholarly opinion that this painting depicts the emperor himself appreciating pines.

Pure and Remote Mountains and Streams (New window)

Pure and Remote Mountains and Streams

Xia Gui (fl. 1180-ca. 1230), Song dynasty
Handscroll, ink on paper, 46.5 x 889.1 cm

Xia Gui (style name Yuyu) was a native of Qiantang (modern Hangzhou, Zhejiang) and a painter at the Southern Song court. Entering service late in the reign of Emperor Xiaozong, he reached the height of his career under Emperor Ningzong, his period of activity also extending into the court of Lizong.

The handscroll viewed from right to left depicts intersecting vistas of mountains and water, sometimes expansive and at other times dense, forming an extremely rhythmic arrangement to the composition. The painter here used "axe-cut" texture strokes to describe the hard, rocky features of the land and added plenty of water to the brush, expressing rich and moist variations of ink tones. The trembling brushwork in the painting suggests a sense of branch tips moving in the wind. In fact, the ability to delicately grasp this kind of formless sensory experience can be considered one of the most refined aspects of Southern Song painting.

Bamboo and Shrike (New window)

Bamboo and Shrike

Li Anzhong (fl. 1119-1162), Song dynasty
Album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 25.4 x 26.9 cm

Li Anzhong served in the Painting Academy during the Xuanhe era (1119-1125) of Emperor Huizong's reign in the Northern Song. After the Jingkang Disaster of 1126, he reassumed his position in the Shaoxing era (1131-1162) of Gaozong's reign in the Southern Song.

This painting of a Chinese great gray shrike is signed "Painted by the Military Classicist Li Anzhong," the signature providing important reference material for the artist. The bird and bamboo are done in the double-outline method, while the thorny branch is rendered in the "boneless" wash method, giving it a "sketchy" feel. The ochre with ink brushwork added to it increases the sense of volume. Light and dark ink were used to dot the outlines of the shrike, a background of color wash then applied to highlight the white portions. Other colors were added to the light ink of the fine feathers to create rich layering. The diverse and exquisite techniques bring out a sense of life, revealing precisely the transition from Northern Song realism to the style of Southern Song spirit harmony.

Guanyin Bodhisattva of a Thousand Hands and Eyes (New window)

Guanyin Bodhisattva of a Thousand Hands and Eyes

Anonymous, Song dynasty (960-1279)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 176.8 x 79.2 cm

Against the background of a myriad billowing waves and auspicious clouds spewing forth are the Four Heavenly Kings holding up a bejeweled lotus pedestal. On it stands a majestic Guanshiyin (or Guanyin) Bodhisattva of a Thousand Hands and Eyes. Two attendant bodhisattvas clasp their hands in reverence on either side of Guanyin, and next to them are two others in attendance holding Buddhist implements. The Guanyin here appears with facial hair, indicating a manifestation in male form, but the eyes and eyebrows are delicate and elegant. Combined with the warm and gentle look, the figure already reveals the manner of a female deity.

Although this scroll bears neither seal nor signature of the artist, the outlining of the figures and lines of the drapery patterns were all done using strokes from a centered brush. The brushwork is fluid and spirited, the necklace decoration and gems inlaid onto the bejeweled lotus pedestal painted with exceptional detail. The coloring is beautiful but not vulgar, making this a masterpiece of Southern Song Buddhist painting.

Seven-character Truncated Verse (New window)

Seven-character Truncated Verse

Wu Ju (ca. 1145~50-1202~07), Song dynasty
Hanging scroll, ink on silk, 98.6 x 55.3 cm

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."

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.

Antiquities Section

Technical sophistication during the Southern Song period pioneered a number of distinctive arts and crafts which exerted far-reaching influence on later times, including the graceful black lacquer ware, as well as the tixi technique that features "layered incision" of cursive cloud patterns carved through the depth of multi-coated lacquer.

The substitution of ceramics for bronzes was initially a thrifty measure but it eventually grew and developed into a unique line of Guan ware ware boasting beautiful crazes.

For the same reason, glassware was used in place of genuine jade. Their bright colors coupled with gold or silver rimming were apparently cherished dearly.

The Shoushan stone was another replacement material for jade ritual wares. Stone figurines unearthed from the Song tombs also allow us a glimpse into how Song artisans dealt with this medium.

The Longquan celadons with their jade-like luster formed the most widely used ceramics group in the Southern Song, while the Jizhou ware strikes a romantic visual image, even today, with its pleasantly surprising presence of a leaf or flower against an all-black glaze.

Celadon-glazed bowl with floral rim, Guan ware Song dynasty (New window)

Celadon-glazed bowl with floral rim, Guan ware

Song dynasty, 1127-1279
Collection of National Palace Museum

This celadon plate resembling a blossoming lotus has a rim as refined as flower petals. The layer of glaze at the rim is thinner and appears a light brown color, because of the tendency of the glaze to drip downwards. The base of the plate is flat with circular foot, the circular foot retaining the trace of seven tiny supporting nails. Using mud nails to support the porcelain during the firing process enabled the glaze to cover the porcelain more completely. This special kind of firing-support technique was also used by Ru-Kilns, suggesting a possible connection between the Southern Song Guan wares in Zhejiang and the Ru-Kilns in Henan.

This lotus-shaped celadon plate by the Southern Song Guan ware has a clear, even and smooth glaze in a gentle color. The Southern Song Guan wares were located in the vicinity of Zhejiang, and their porcelain is generally glazed in a bluish green tint, distinguishable from the usual Zhejiang tradition of yellowish or greenish tint. It is speculated that this new tint that suddenly became popular during the Southern Song Period may also have originated from the Ru-Kilns in the north. However, the clay used for Ru-Kilns was lighter in color, while the clay used for porcelain fired in Zhejiang tended to be blacker. In addition, a pattern resembling cracks in ice and containing light yellow lines can be seen between the layers of glaze for this plate; this is referred to as "yellow eel blood in cracks of ice", and is one of the most beloved characteristics of porcelain from Guan wares of Southern Song.

Celadon-glazed vase with phoenix-shaped handles, Longquan ware Southern Song dynasty (New window)

Celadon-glazed vase with phoenix-shaped handles, Longquan ware

Southern Song dynasty, 1127-1279
Collection of National Palace Museum

This celadon vase with phoenix ears has a long neck and cylindrical body, its rim opening outwards like a plate, decorated with phoenix-patterned ears on the sides. Neat and elegant in shape, it is a work of the Longquan ware during the Southern Song Period.

Various types of ceramic and porcelain ware were commonly used during the Southern Song Period, including celadon porcelain, white porcelain and black porcelain; porcelain from Longquan ware can be said to be the mainstream product. The Longquan ware was located in southern Zhejiang, its porcelain sales locations widely spread and its product types numerous, frequently appearing in grave burials and cellar caches from the Song and Yuan Dynasties. Longquan ware porcelain is also frequently discovered in old overseas trading sites. After Southern Song, Longquan ware also became an important kiln in supplying domestic and overseas demand for porcelain.

Vases with a long neck and plate-like rim were quite common in the Ru Kilns of Northern Song and imperial ware of Southern Song, and were a form of porcelain favored by the court. The Longquan ware tended to add fish-patterned or phoenix-patterned ears to the sides of the long neck. The surface of the phoenix ears of this celadon vase is decorated with fine patterns, and the feathers on the head and wings of the phoenix are clearly visible. The glaze is light green in color, bright and warm without any blemish. Along with two other celadon vases with phoenix ears that are now in Japanese collection and are named "A Thousand Sounds" and "Ten Thousand Sounds" by a Japanese emperor, these are some of the most beautiful and amazing works to come from the Lonquan ware.

Red tixi lacquer box, three-tiered floral rim (New window)

Red tixi lacquer box, three-tiered floral rim

Southern Song dynasty, 1235
Excavated from Chayuan Moutain,
Collection of Fuzhou City Museum

This lacquer tixi box was unearthed from a Fuzhou grave burial dated 1235, and is the earliest lacquer ware with certainty of dating to be excavated so far.

Lacquer tixi box were generally used as containers for bronze mirrors, powder boxes, combs and other toiletries. This particular tixi box comprises of three boxes stacked one over another, is lidded, has a flat base, and the outer rim is in the gentle shape of six flower petals. The base and inlay are painted with black lacquer, while the outside is painted with layers of yellow and red lacquer, the overlapping layers clearly visible. The entire case is carved in the ruyi-cloud pattern, divided into two concentric circles on the lid, each containing four and eight ruyi-cloud patterns respectively. The pattern combination appears calm and unhurried, the lines rounded and even, the lacquer color warm and full.

Lacquer carving is a decorative technique particular to Chinese lacquer ware; patterns are carved into overlapping layers of lacquer, showcasing the beauty of layers and texture. "Tixi" is one of the earlier types of lacquer carving, and refers to overlapping two or three layers of lacquer in different colors and then using a slanting knife to carve out the patterns; the surface would then display the different color layers. The patterning usually involves arrangements of such geometric shapes as ruyi-clouds or vanilla patterns, emphasizing the beauty of flowing lines. This lacquer tixi box is a classic, representative example of Southern Song carved lacquer ware.

Black-glazed bowl with leaf pattern, Jizhou ware Southern Song dynasty (New window)

Black-glazed bowl with leaf pattern, Jizhou ware

Southern Song dynasty, 1127-1279
Collection of National Palace Museum

This black glaze bowl with leaf-pattern has a wide rim and small base, the side of the bowl slanted and deep like a bamboo hat. The rim is set with a line of metal, and black glaze covers both the outside and inside of the bowl. One can see a yellow leaf floating in the black glaze, its veins vaguely visible, its edges curling up unevenly, the arrangement displaying a natural beauty.

When taking tea, the Song people would customarily crush the tea cakes into tiny tea powder, place the powder in the tea bowl and add water; after some stirring the tea would be ready for drinking. Therefore a layer of white foam would often float to the surface of the tea, which would have suited well the black glaze of this tea bowl. The Song people had developed the practice of "tea competitions", and the coloring and foam appearing after stirring of the tea were both important criteria considered by the judges. Black glaze on tea bowls set off the white tea particularly well, and for this reason these tea bowls became extremely popular during the Song Dynasty.

The leaf-pattern on this black glaze bowl is a decorative technique unique to the Jizhou Kiln of Jiangxi. One can imagine how the leaf in the bowl might have appeared to gently float up in the tea as the ancients drank from the bowl. This would certainly have added to the joys of tea tasting.

Books Section

Soon after Gaozong of Southern Song relocated the capital to Linan, he restarted the Imperial Academy of Painting and widely solicited artists. 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. Paintings exhibited in this section include: Deng Chun's Supplements to the Records about Paintings, Zhou Mi's Anecdotal Narratives of the Eastern Qi, Chen Kui's On Southern Song's Guan Ge System, the former's supplement by unknown author, Li E's Southern Song: Court Painters and their Paintings, and Song Boren's Manual of Plum Blossom Painting. Calligraphy works exhibited include: Zhao Gou's Notes on Calligraphy, Jiang Kui's A Supplement to the "Essay on Calligraphy", and Sang Shichang's A Research on "The Orchid Pavilion". On the subject of epigraphy there is Zhao Mingcheng's Bronze and Stone Inscriptions.

Supplements to the Records about Paintings (New window)

Supplements to the Records about Paintings

Written by Deng Chun of Song dynasty
From the Encyclopedia of Painting complied by Wang Yuanzhen of Ming dynasty between 1590 and 1591

This book records the art history of Chinese painting which contains 10 volumns 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 yaer of Qiandao period of Southern Song Dynasty. The first seven volumes contain biographical information about 219 artists. 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.

This 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 (New window)

Manual of Plum Blossom Painting

Written by Song Boren of Song dynasty
Zhibuzuzhai imprint during Qianlong and Daoguang reigns (1736-1850), Qing dynasty

Manual of Plum Blossom Painting 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. 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.

The page shown is the "Side View" from "Full Blossoming" in the first volume, and "Opening of the Mirror" from "Magnificence" in the second volume.