Lion-Head Goose (Lü Ji, ca. 1488-1505, ink on scroll)

Lion-Head Goose (Lü Ji, ca. 1488-1505, ink on scroll)

Here is a masterful painting of a lion-head goose by Ming dynasty master Lü Ji a “flower and bird” painter who gained prominence in the late 15th century.  Lu was born in Ningbo in the Zhejiang province and he became famous for copying the style of early Ming bird and flower master Bian Wenjin, but Lu’s mature works, like this beautiful goose have a style and feeling all their own.  Lu was gifted at painting with flowing lines and flowery washes, but above all he is renowned for his ability to portray expressive lifelike birds (with ample personality).  These gifts made him “a famous court painter at the Renzhi Hall” and lead the Ming court to endow him with a sinecure in the Imperial Bodyguard (which seems like a terrible place for a bird painter–but which was probably an income divorced from title).

In this painting a white domestic goose stands beside a beautiful abstract rock of the sort treasured by Ming literati.  The bird stares up at the graceful stone and the ephemeral flowers as though he is appreciating their beauty and subtle meaning.  The work may or may not have a deeper allegorical meaning (my dictionary of Chinese symbolism does not mention domestic geese), but it is certainly hints at the sentient nature of our fellow creatures–and it is also a powerful reminder to treasure the exquisite beauty of the world!