New Book

How to Read Chinese Paintings (ND1042 .H43 2008)

The catalog How to Read Chinese Paintings accompanies an installation from The Metropolitan Museum of Art which studies 36 paintings and calligraphies from the Museum’s collection. Spanning 1,000 years of Chinese art history, from the 8th to the 17th century, the display will examine many of the Museum’s finest paintings, including figures, landscapes, flowers, birds, and religious subjects.

The installation groups related works to demonstrate different artistic approaches to the same subject. For example, four images of pine trees will illustrate the revolutionary transformation that occurred in Chinese painting between the 12th and the 14th century. Details of each painting will demonstrate how a more naturalistic approach to representation gave way around 1300 to an emphasis on self-expressive, calligraphic brushwork. Elsewhere, two 13th-century paintings – an elegant orchid rendered in sumptuous colors and a pristine monochrome depiction of narcissus – will be placed side by side to illustrate the difference between the art of court academicians and that of the scholar-amateurs.

Other meaningful juxtapositions include two works by the recluse-artist Ni Zan (1306-1374), revealing how personal trauma impacted his art. Two images of eagles – one by the 15th-century professional painter Lin Liang (ca. 1416-1480) and the other by the 17th-century Ming loyalist Zhu Da (Bada Shanren, 1626-1705) – will demonstrate how the latter artist turned a courtly subject into a powerful image of dissent and defiance. And three different ways of presenting Buddhist holy men will be on view: an imperially commissioned “iron-wire” drawing dated 1308 by the court painter Wang Zhenpeng (act. ca. 1280-1329), a comic fantasy by the late 16th-century eccentric Wu Bin (active ca. 1583-1626), and a devotional tour de force by the 25-year-old Buddhist monk Shitao (1642-1707).

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