image           Paintings that prominently display architecture are classified in ancient texts under the categories of "buildings" and "halls." In the Sung dynasty (960-1279), writers (referring to the ruler as a tool to guide the brush) called the technique for rendering architecture as "ruled-line painting." The ruler was about two Chinese feet long and more than a Chinese inch wide. Divided lengthwise in half with joints at either end, exact parallel lines could be rendered. A brush was held in a split tube, the end of which was cut to a point to guide the brush. Moving the brush up or down varied the thickness of the line. Thus, ruled-line painters in the past worked with tools similar to those of modern architects when they make scale drawings.
          Ruled-line painting began early, as seen in the writing of Ku K'ai-chih (ca. 344-ca. 406). In the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589), it is said that "Lu T'an-wei was the best in [painting] buildings." By the Sui (581-618) and T'ang (618-907), the subject became established. In Chang Yen-yuan's Record of Famous Painters Through the Ages (847), for example, he mentions buildings was one of the six categories of painting. Although examples of wooden architecture from the T'ang and Sung periods are quite rare, paintings such as Sailing Boats and a Riverside Mansion, attributed to Li Ssu-hsun (651-718), can provide important material to fill the gaps. In the Sung dynasty, Building Standards (1100) was edited by Li Chieh, Directorate of Palace Buildings, who described in detail the standards of techniques and forms for wooden structures. Ruled-line painting that specifically described buildings and structures emerged in this age of new forms and details in architecture. Slightly later, in the late Northern Sung imperial Catalogue of the Hsuan-ho Hall (1120), the category of "buildings" was combined with "halls" and elevated, while ruled-line painting was promoted; "Since each dot and stroke must accord with actual measurements and exact rules, it is a difficult field in which to become skilled." The works of Kuo Chung-shu in the 10th century clearly reflect the artist's ability to suggest volume and space through perspective for a high degree of realism. This corresponds to a description of Kuo's painting by Li Ch'ih in his Evaluation of Painting (ca. 1098); "Beams, girders, pillars, and rafters have open spaces as if to permit movement. Railings, lintels, windows, and doorways look as if they could really be passed through or opened and shut." Retiring from Court by the Southern Sung (1127-1279) court painter Li Sung (who himself is said to have begun his career as a carpenter), Cooling Off by a Waterside Hall by "Master" Li, and the anonymous Burning Incense as an Offering describe the beauty and elegance of palatial architecture. All the details, including the roofs, brackets, windows, railings, and balconies, are described with accuracy and realism--combining together with figure and landscape painting for more variety.
          The golden age of ruled-line painting took place in the 10th century, during the Five Dynasties and early Sung. With the promotion of the Three Perfections (poetry, calligraphy, and painting) in the Southern Sung and the rise of scholar art, however, ruled-line painting declined by the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). Nonetheless, T'ang Hou (fl. ca. 1322-1329) in his Critique of Painting still praised it; "The ancients considered ruled-line painting easy, but they were unaware that even engravers and artisans were unable to exhaust all the subtleties of views, forms, distances, and textures. All the more so, then, is it difficult to thus convey one's thoughts on silk or paper with brush and ink, compass and ruler, while adhering to rules and standards." The trend towards scholar painting also influenced the category of "buildings." Ruled-line painting took subjects from history and literature, rendering them in monochrome ink outline (pai-miao) while giving more attention to the architecture than the story. Dragon Boat Regatta by Wang Chen-p'eng (1275-1328) and The Chien-chang Palace by an anonymous artist reveal the complexity of architecture with their detailed brushwork and well-conceived forms. However, at the same time, such anonymous works as Terraced Building Overlooking the Water and The Yueh-yang Lookout reveal how structures became increasingly fussy and decorative. In the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the anonymous Pavilion Facing the Sea reveals rougher brushwork and opulent colors. The realism in form and technique falls far short of those in the Sung and Yuan, showing that ruled-line painting required time and effort; no short-cuts could take the place of knowledge in construction and architecture. These techniques evidently were not inherited by Ming and Ch'ing (1644-1911) artists.
          Painters who did specialize in this field were frowned upon as "craftsmen" and ignored by scholars. In the early to middle Ch'ing dynasty, the court artists Chiao Ping-chen and Ting Kuan-p'eng were influenced by Western techniques in painting and architectural drawing introduced at the time. Perspective and shading were combined with traditional subjects and forms to create Ch'ing-style architecture, as seen in Buildings in Landscape and Peace for the New Year. Suggesting volume and depth, ruled-line painting was imbued with new life. Unfortunately, it again waned after the middle Ch'ing and all but died out. This special exhibition presents the history of ruled-line painting from the collection of the Museum.


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