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After a few days of war, Zhu Yuan Zheng established the Ming Dynasty. The Chinese emperor's throne went back to the Han people's hands, and the art academy system was re- established. There were two tendencies. One was the paintings of professional artists, which had a long history; The other one was the paintings of literator painters (similar to scholar painters ) which had formed since the Song Dynasties. The best of professional artists were often sent to the court to work. Therefore, they led the art trend of a dynasty. However, literator painters have formed an individual faction through years of development. They looked down upon art academies. The position and style of professional artists were challenged.
As the number of artists grew, a few denominations developed. First, there were the Jiang Xia denomination and Zhe denomination. Their founders were Wu Wei and Dai Jin respectively. ( The art history often combine the two as " Academy Zhe denomination" becamuse Dai Jin and Wu Wei were professional artists and their style was similar to that of the court artists.) Their style was partly inherited from " Ma Xia". Southern Song's imperial style. The front and back spaces in the paintings are balanced and sometimes plane. Every object seems equally important (without much perspective).The artists used the brush freely. The resulting paintings express untrammeled sentiment. This style was welcomed by the society.
Nevertheless, once the Wu denomination appeared, these two denominations were criticized by each other. That was because their paintings have become rough and slipshod; and plus, these painters had a low social status. To make a living, many of them changed their style, or they got involved in making other handicrafts. This resulted in the prosperity of late Ming's wooden plate relief- print and Nian Hua.
In art history, the position of the Wu denomination was later substituted by Dong Qi Chuang's Hua Ting denomination, or the Song Jiang denomination ( Hua Ting is the same as present- day Song Jiang of Shang Hai). Many famous literators and artists have been to Hua Ting. They helped a lot in development of its art culture.
There was a mode of imitating the style and painting techniques of famous artists in the past. Academy and imperial artists were asked to imitate academy paintings of Song in the academy. As for the literator painters, they studied and imitated the style of Song's and Yuan's artists.
In middle Ming, the Wu denomination appeared of which the founders were Shen Zhou and Wen Zheng Ming. Its style can be traced back to "Dong Ju". At that time, civil literators craved for paintings that integrate literature, calligraphy and painting. The style of the Zhe denomination was substituted by the Wu denomination. Artists of this denomination often expressed their goals of life or morals through their paintings. Because of them, literator paintings spread into the courts and among the civilians. They influenced furniture, gardens, teapots... everything in the people's daily lives.
There were more female artists than any of the previous dynasties. There were 216 in total from Prehistoric times to Qing Dynasty. Half of them were in Ming Dynasty, mostly in late Ming. Down through the ages, females were discriminated. They were supposed to be a loyal wife at home. Therefore, female artists were very rare. The society did not think highly of their skills and ability. Records of them were only "accidents". There were four main types of female artists. The first type was Gong Ye . The three of them ( in Ming ) were imperial concubines. Actually they were not real artists. The second type was Ming Yuan ( 57 in Ming ). They were the wives or daughters in an official's family or a normal family. Most of them were influenced by father or husband. The third type was Ji Shi (10 in Ming). They were concubines or lady's- maids. The last type was Ming Ji ( 32 in Ming ). The third and fourth type had a similar social status. Female artists painted only plants and insects.
On the whole, the courts' paintings inherited the style of Song's court's paintings. The figure paintings were mainly on politics, virtuous emperors and officials, and amusements in the courts. The flower and bird paintings were much appreciated.
Pornographic paintings have not been studied before because they are not opened to the public. They were painted by unknown artists, though people often put names of famous artists on them, like Tang Bo Hu. Human figures were painted in Ming when compared to the past. Although some of the paintings were of high standards later on, the artists failed in showing the structure of human body accurately. Some of the paintings were rough and of very low standard. The scenes shown were intolerable to the eye. They were secrete, unlike those of high standards, which could be shown to the public as artworks. This type of painting was at its heights in Ming, but as the Qing government had strict control over thoughts and culture, they spread more secretly until late Qing, when the government was corrupted and they went back to their heights.
Dai Jin (1388 ~1462 )
His " zi " is Wenjin, and his " hao" is Jixgan. His place of origin is Huang Zhou, Zhegang. He had been a worker in foundry of gold and silver equipment. Not long after, he started to learn painting and became famous. Later, he was recommended to the court. It was said that the court artists were jealous of him. Therefore he was excluded out of the court. He went back to Hangzhou to sell pictures, and he became more illustrious. Someone even thought that his paintings were the best of the dynasty. Most of his figure paintings are Taoism figures and virtuous people. He learnt from different artists to create his own different style. One of the main characteristics of his style is that the lines are smooth and fluent. Many people followed his styles, therefore, the Zhe denomination develops.
Wu Wei ( 1459~ 1509 )
His " zi " is Ciyong ( second elder ) and his "hao " is Xiaoxian ( Little Immortal ). His father died when he was young. He was poor ( He has been a servant begore ) but he loved painting. He became famous when he was seventeen in Nanjing. He has been sent to the courts and work for two times. Emperor Zhu Jianshen liked and trusted him, and gave him a "best scholar of art" stamp ( Chinese artists stamp on their artworks). Nevertheless, he liked to drink and he was frank. He despised other officials as if they were slaves and servants. Those officials accused and he left unwillingly. In 1506, Zhen Houzhao became the emperor and sent him to the court again. However, he was drunk and died.
Wu Wei's painting is similar to that of Dai Jin and " Ma Xia", but his paintings are more untrammeled, like dragons and snakes, and as quick as lightning. It makes the paintings "energetic". This is a significant special feature of his paintings. He has a style of delicacy other than this in his figure paintings. Some other artists have a similar style that of him. So the Jiaxia denomination developed.
>click the picture to see more
His "zi " iz Qinan and his "hao" is Shetian (Stone Field) and Baisheyong (White Stone Elder). He was born into a literary family with good education provided for him. All his teachers were famous artists and literators. His father and oom were also literators and they were good at painting too. He did not search for a job in the government like other educated people. He even refused when other officials recommended him. The reason might be that he was controlled bu domestic discipline in his family. He enjoyed himself by travelling around, painting and reciting poems all his life. He was tolerant to others. His poems are prosaic. All he hoped for was that the government would use good officials and the civilians could live peacefully. He was famous in Suzhou. Everyone including the officials, respected him. He painted mostly landscape paintings, and also flower and bird paintings. His fame spread all the way to the capital. He studied and imitated the style of the Four Masters of Yuan before forty. After that, he developed his own style. Once, he even combined the style of the Four Masters of Yuan in one painting. His paintings became mature after fifty. He integrated poem, calligraphy, literature and painting. He painted forthwith and the composition of his paintings are concise. Because of his hardwork, more people began to like and accept the format of literator paintings, which uses paintings to express the painter's feelings.
Weng Zhengming was ShenZhou's student. He looked dumb when he was small. Fortunately his father found him the best teachers. He had some friends and classmates. They learnt from each other. He was quiet and he studied hard, therefore he became famous soon. However, he failed in public examinations of his hometown. Although he became an official when he was 54, he did not enjoy it and the position was low. He quited and return to his hometown in 1527. He concentrated on poetry, literature, calligraphy and painting until the moment before he died in 1559. Every of his painting is of the same high quality. He painted steadily. He had a peaceful mind while painting, and so his paintings look gentle and graceful. >click the picture to see more.
His "zi" Shunqing and his "hao" is Dong Chun ( East Village ). His parentage was low. He was only an apprentice in a picture shop. At that time, workshops usually learnt from imperial painters after Southern Song Dynasty. Therefore, his artworks inherited the style of Li Tang and Ma Yuan. Although he was a professional artist, the themes of his paintings are closely related to literators. Some of them are from philosophers' theories; some are on morals. One of his most special paintings is of twenty four beggars. It shows that he had a strong responsibility of the society. Literators despised him as a professional artist, but his student Tang Bohu respected him.
Four Masters of the Ming: These artists were chosen by Dong Qichuang as the four best artists of Ming
Tang Yin (Tang Bohu ) (1470 ~1523 )
Bohu is his "zi". He was a friend of Wen Zhengming, but their characters and parentage were totally different. He had been smart, but mischievous since he was young. He did not study hard. After a success in a small- scale public examination, he had a greed for fame and wealth. He went to the civil service examination of the whole country, but he was innocently implicated in a bribery and was put in jail. He was beaten and treated harshly. After he was released, he converted to Buddhism and called himself "Liaorujushi " ( Six similes secular Buddhist devotee ). The " six similes" means that " everything is like a dream, a fantasy, a bubble, a shadow, dew and lightning." However, he was so poor that he had to return to reality, selling pictures to make a living. He was beset by poverty and illness throughout his life and he died when he was fifty four.
His life was tragic. Nevertheless, he was a genius in art. He had been a student of Zhou Chen and Shen Zhou. His basic painting techniques came from Li Tang, Guo Xi, Li Cheng and Zhou Chen , but the artistic conception is similar to that of literators. His artworks are a combination of scholar paintings and professional artists' paintings. In his figure paintings, there is a larger proportion of women, especially prostitutes. He expresses his innuendo of the society's state and compassion of prostitutes through these paintings.
His "zi " is Shifu. His family was very poor and he had been a painter when he was young ( not an artist ). Later, he quited and learnt painting from Zhou Chen. Wen Zhengming and his father also directed him. He was intelligent and hardworking. He was so good at imitating old pictures that they looked almost the same as the original one. He learnt from the famous artists' experiences and techniques to from his own special style. It was praised by scholars and officials. He was much more fortunate than his teacher Zhou Chen that he had not been affected by his parentage and became one of the Four Masters of the Ming. Chou Ying was able to change colorful figure paintings and landscape paintings to suit the taste of scholars and officials. He keeps the original style of artisan art, and absorbs the views of scholars and officials. His paintings are archaic, delicate and elegant. Even Dong Qichuang, a radical artist respected him. His landscape paintings' style comes from Zhou Boju's green landscape and Song artists like Li Tang. He also painted using ink and water only. > click the picture to see more.
Xu Wei ( 1521 ~ 1593 )
His place of origin is Shao Xing of the Zhe Jiang province. He had a great success in literature, drama, calligraphy and of course, painting, but he was an unfortunate person. Soon after he was born, his father died. His step mother and brother were the only ones to take care of him. He became the scholar of the hsien when he was twenty, but failed to be the first for eight times in the province's public examination. He was very poor and he made a living by being a teacher. At that time, the coastal area was disturbed by foreign enemies. He became a staff of the army to work on classified military information. Not long after, as an official was arrested and commit suicide in jail, he became nervous. He had schizophrenia again, killed his wife by accident and was imprisoned. His friends tried very hard to save him. He was set free after seven years. Then he was beset by poverty and illness and died in solitude.
Because of his unfortunate life, the main theme of his poems, calligraphy and paintings is to express his indignation. He criticized the feudal system, treacherous officials and the emperor. He often said that his artworkswere simply a kind of game. This idea made him use the pluckiest format. The ink looks as if it was splashed on the paper. Fruits and leaves are difficult to be identified; Leaves are like jiggling shadows under the moonlight. His motions were vividly and directly expressed through the power of ink and pen. He was able to break out from the structure of the object. To him, it was not important to paint something realistic. It gives the viewer a deep impression. This style influenced many famous artists of later generations, such as Zhu Da, the Yang Zhou school, and even Qi Bai Shi. They were inspired by him. >click the picture to see more.
Dong Qichuang ( 1555~ 1636 )
His "zi" is Xuanzai and his "hao" is Sibai. He became the highest government official of civil posts. To avoid the political corruption, he often escaped back home to create literature and calligraphic works, as well as paintings. He also appreciate and collect artworks with his friends. It is rare for artists to be involved in so many cultural activities. He suggested that when we learn painting, first, we have to learn from artists in the past; Then, we learn from the nature. When we paint, we should treat it as a healthy leisure activity. If we work too hard on it, it is harmful to our health. He listed Zhou Mengfu, Chou Ying as examples of short- lived; Huang Gongwang, Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming as examples of long- lived. We should paint with the temperament literators.
Apart from the above, he strongly recommended and further explained another art theory- the North and South denominations. This theory is based on Zen Buddhism. He said that Chinese painting had developed into the North and the South denomination since Tang. The north denomination painted coloured landscape. Some of the artists are Zhao boju, Ma Yuan and Xia Gui. The South denomination painted using the washing method. Some of the artists are Jin Hao, Guan Tong, Dong Yuan, Ju Ran and the Four Masters of the Yuan. Indeed, he himself often mixed up the South denomination and literator paintings (scholar paintings). The concept was not clear. It is not a scientific theory. It had confused many people. We should not fully believe in it.
At approximately the same time with Dong Qichuang's Hua Ting denomination, Lan Ying and his students were active in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. Hangzhou was once called Wulin. Therefore, they were called "Wulin Pai" ( Kungfu society denomination). As Lan Ying's place of origin is Zhejiang, they are also called " Late Zhe denomination". Lan Ying learnt painting from painting shops as an artisan artist when he was young because his family was poor. He painted ladies and Jie Hua in his early years. When he grew up, he tried to associate with literator painters to gain a higher social status. He imitated many artists' painting styles and specified it in his paintings like other literator painters. He worked the hardest on Huang Gongwang's style because he was best respected by literator painters. There is much strength seen in the strokes and they look unrestrained.