You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘scroll’ tag.


Ming week was last week, and, even though there is so much more to say about the Ming Dynasty, I need to wrap up and move on to other topics. Today’s visual post will have to serve as an epilogue.  Here is an epic panoramic painting of the Jiajing Emperor traveling to the Ming Dynasty Tombs with a huge cavalry escort and an elephant-drawn carriage.  The work was completed at some point during the Jiajing reign (1522-1566) but I haven’t been able to pinpoint the date any better than that (it is such a huge painting, that maybe it took the whole forty years to make).  You should really click on the painting above.  It shows up as a little mummy-colored hyphen only because WordPress and I are so computer illiterate.  If you click on it, it is actually a 26 meter (85 ft) long epic scroll showing the enormous imperial entourage progressing towards the beautiful and spooky necropolis of the Ming Emperors.  What could be a more appropriate postscript to the pomp and dark absolutist majesty of that erstwhile time?

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!

Five Quail (Anonymous, 13th century, Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper)

Five Quail (Anonymous, 13th century,
Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper)

Quail are mid-sized members of the Galliformes (the gamebirds) which live around the world, usually staying close to the ground where they hide among the undergrowth and peck out a living eating small invertebrates, seeds, and berries.  Multiple species of the quail genus Coturnix  live in China, where they have long been a favorite of hunters, poultry farmers, gamblers, and, of course, artists.  Quail were associated with autumn and they form the centerpiece of several lovely scrolls and small compositions about the plants and flowers of fall.  The birds also are utilized as a symbol of bravery (since a certain element of Chinese society fought male quail in battles reminiscent of cockfights and bet on the winner).  The painting at the top of this post also utilizes the quail as a symbol, albeit in a way which is extremely obscure to non-Chinese speakers.  The Chinese phrase for 5 quail is “wu anchun”–and the first two syllables “wu an” are a homonym for “no peace” (in China, a land which frequently knows censorship, homonyms are an indirect way of making political of social comments).  The painting above was thus a plangent comment on the fall of the Sung dynasty in the mid-13th century (which felt like a dark autumn to the Chinese literati).   Fortunately the following quail paintings are not quite so somber in tone, but convey instead the beauties of autumn or the simple delight the artists took in the endearing rounded form of the wild quail.

Smartweed and Quails (Qi Baishi, ca. first half of twentieth century, ink and watercolor on scroll)

Smartweed and Quails (Qi Baishi, ca. first half of twentieth century, ink and watercolor on scroll)

Quail (attributed to Li An-Zhong, ca. Southern Song Dynasty, ink and watercolor on scroll) 12th–13th century

Quail (attributed to Li An-Zhong, ca. Southern Song Dynasty, ink and watercolor on scroll) 12th–13th century

Quail painting from the Ming dynasty animal painting model book of Shen Zhou (ca. 1427-1509)

Quail painting from the Ming dynasty animal painting model book of Shen Zhou (ca. 1427-1509)

The Picture Scroll of “Clustering Chinese Plum Flowers”by Chen Lu

Clustering Chinese Plum Flowers (Chen Lu, Early Ming, Ink on Handscroll)

The plum blossom is a favorite motif in Chinese painting.  Since the tree blooms at the end of winter it has long been a symbol of winter and the endurance of life.  Similarly, because ancient gnarled plum trees could bear elegant new blossoms, the plum evoked thoughts of long life.  Plums were also indirectly connected to Lao Tzu who was allegedly born under a plum tree.  For  more than 3000 years plums have been a favorite food in China and a favorite food for thought for Chinese artists and poets.

Plum Blossoms, hanging scroll, ink on paper

Plum Blossoms (Chen Lu, Ming Dynasty, ink on paper scroll)

These paintings are all paintings of plum blossoms by Ming dynasty master Chen Lu.  He was born in the early Ming dynasty in Huiji (which is today Shaoxing in Zhejiang province) and was one of the all-time greatest painters of bamboo, pine, orchids, and especially plum blossoms, but no one knows the exact dates of his birth and death.  The spare calligraphic lines of these monumental scrolls are interspersed with sections of wild chaos and with internal empty spaces.  The effect is not dissimilar from abstract expressionism—the plum boughs become an abstract internal voyage which the viewer embarks on through form & lack of form; from darkness to light and back.  This internal voyage element of his work was highlighted by the fact that the long horizontal work is a handscroll—the viewer is meant to spool through it and thus appreciate the modality of discovery and change (if you click on the horizontal scroll at the top of this post you will get some of this effect, although the image is smaller than one might hope).  Additionally plum blossoms opened in winter and so they are frequently interspersed with white snow and ice—an even more trenchant juxtaposition of life and non-life.

Plum Blossom and the moon (72.8*155.7 cm, by Chen Lu, Ming Dynasty)

Plum Blossom and the Moon (Chen Lu, Ming Dynasty, Ink on Scroll)


Here is one of my all time favorite paintings by the peerless hand of one of history’s greatest painters.  Guo Xi was a Chinese literati painter from the Northern Song dynasty.  He was born and lived in Henan from (approximately) 1020 AD – 1090 AD.

Not only was Guo Xi a matchless scroll painter, he was also a scholar, a writer, a gentleman, and a philosopher who thought deeply about the world he was painting.  Guo Xi’s paintings look a little bit like all subsequent Chinese paintings because nearly every subsequent painter either copied him or (more flatteringly) deliberately set about attempting not to copy him.  He has a position similar to Giotto in the west, and is famous for perfecting “floating perspective” and writing a treatise on how to paint landscapes.

Early Spring (Guo Xi, 1072, ink and light watercolor on hanging silk scroll)

The painting above, titled “Early Spring” is his magnum opus.  Using successive layers of black ink wash Guo Xi has portrayed the wet forests of Henan in March or April, just before the trees and flowers burst into bloom.  The billowing clouds are mixed up with floating gray boulders and mountains.  The melt water and rain of late winter storms is cascading down the mountains in numerous rivulets and waterfalls–which empty out into mountain pools and lakes.  Even though the trees and gorse are bare, there is an impalpable hint of spring in the painting. Though leafless, the vegetation seems anything but lifeless.  The cold of winter has not passed but the first tiny hints of better weather seem to be on the way.

It is easy to miss the extensive human presence in this painting because the temples and pavilions of humankind are dwarfed by nature, but, as one zooms in (which you really should do by clicking on the image), one sees that people are indeed involved in the painting.  On the right, fishermen ply their trade amidst the cold rising water while a second group of boatmen have landed on the left side and prepare to schlep their goods up the mountain to the sacred buildings in the center.  Part way up the hill, a sage listens to a woman play the flute.  The tiny people seem excited for spring to come.  They look cold but happy as the elements and seasons swirl and change around them.

The heights of the mountain which blend into clouds are free of people. Covered in serene pines, they hint at an esoteric realm we can only aspire too.  But even on the rarefied heights the relentless progression of seasons and the world is evident.  The painting shows the of natural flux—of tao—and it suggests that for all of our hauteur, humankind is subject to nature and its relentless whirling change.

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

April 2023