Archive for February, 2011

Chinese painting post

February 11, 2011

So I feel like shaking up this blog a bit by doing a post or two on non-western painting(grumble about neglecting non-painting goes here).

Zaho Yong, Horse and Handler. 1347. Yuan China. Freer Gallery of Art

First of all, I don’t need to say that this is an aboslutely brilliant piece of painting. The groom’s clothing is a masterpiece of assured tinting that mantains a sense of linearity, the horse is shaded without being blotchy, and the painting overall gives the impression of a hand that is so assured it does not need to be fussy-academicans take note. The bond between the horse and groom is likewise well conveyed in a glance. If the technique is closer to drawing or watercolor than oil paint, it is drawing that compares favorably with the finest western draftsmen.
Now there are a couple of things that need to be mentioned to get a sense of what’s going on. First of all, the technique is somewhat different than that used in classical western painting. Chinese scroll painting is normally done in ink or tints on silk, which means you can get all sorts of interesting shadings and tints but it won’t be as “slick” as an oil paintings. Likewise, these scrolls were normally owned for private contemplation and the owner would commonly place his seal on it or even write a inscription-the Freer’s notes on this work states that the vertical inscription on the left is by non other than the Quianlong Emperor. This is not so peculiar as it might seem; for in the classical chinese tradition calligraphy is ranked with painting as an art form and a well-written poem would beautify it. The A good analogy might be something like the Adoration of The Magi tondo in the National Gallery begun by Fra Angelico and completed by Fillipo Lippi. Last I will note the icongraphical significance of the image, for it is expected that the collector be able to “read” the subject-matter rather like an art historian would “read” a painting’s iconography. My understanding is that horse-and-groom paintings reference the importance of recognizing talent in the civil service-the value of a good groom, after all, is that he can spot a horse with potential. Now what is especially interesting is that this was painted during the Yuan Dynasty, and can thus be read as a reminder to the forgien Yuan Dynasty to properly appreciate native talent.