Chinese Painting and Pictorial Art

Yuan Dynasty

Ming Dynasty

Qing Dynasty

Yuan Dynasty

1279 - 1368


1279: Song dynasty fell to Mongol invaders, who ruled China for 90 years under the dynasty name Yuan

China became part of the vast Mongol empire

For Chinese intellectuals, it seemed to be a government of occupation

Chinese officials were replaced by Mongols or other non-Chinese

Chinese intellectuals lived under many restrictions

Forbidden to travel

Could not participate in public/political life

Taxed unequally

World View of the Mongol Conquests

Mongol warriors (medieval manuscript illustration)

The Mongols

Kublai Khan and His Empress Hunting

Mongols did not assimilate

Retained their traditional culture and language

Viewed with suspicion and disdain by Chinese populace

The Art World

Court patronage of art mainly limited to the Mongolian traditional arts (textiles, jewelry, metalwork, etc.)

Outside the court, cultural creativity in several of the arts, including drama, calligraphy, and painting

Loss of traditional court patronage set the stage for rise of scholar-amateurs (literati) to the center of the painting world

Literati and Professional Painting Styles


Did not paint for specific patrons

Seem amateurishly awkward in execution

Usually done in ink monochrome on paper (except when deliberately referring to antique styles)

Symbolism important

Goal is personal expression


Painted for specific patrons

Highly polished

Usually done in ink and colors on silk

Symbolism not important, except in specific religious subjects

Goal is accurate representation

Literati Painting
Style Characteristics

Sparing or no use of washes

Sometimes outline also abandoned

Abandoned one-corner, asymmetrical compositions

Intense study of old masters

Preoccupation with style; self-referential

Poetry, painting, and calligraphy often linked

Two trends: naturalism and expressionism

Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains, 1296

Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), greatest artist of the early Yuan period

Related to the Song royal family; because of his elite connections and status, was recruited to serve in the Mongol government; the invitation created a deep personal moral conflict regarding loyalty and honor

Autumn Colors

Hidden symbolism and political commentary

Artist refers to a poignant hidden meaning in his inscription on the painting

Landscape pictures an actual place in Shandong province that the artist visited, ancestral home of a close friend (who would never be able to see it because of travel restrictions)

Composition (vs. Southern Song)

Spatial organization (continuous)

Color palette (cf. Tang dynasty)

Brushwork (cf. calligraphy; vs. Song landscape painting)

Yuan vs. Southern Song

Abandonment of asymmetrical compositions

Spatial Diagram
Yuan Dynasty

Color Palette cf. Tang Landscape Painting

Cf. Calligraphy

Vs. Song Painting

Autumn Colors

Refers to old masters, especially of the Tang dynasty

Poetry or other text, painting, and calligraphy linked

Naturalism and expressionism are parallel elements

The Rongxi Studio, 1372

Ni Zan (1301-1374), one of the "Four Masters" of the late Yuan dynasty

Portrait of Ni Zan

The Rongxi Studio, 1372

Depicts a scholarís retreat/studio on his estate (in the foreground)

Inscription (text and calligraphy) by the artist

Cf. Song Dynasty

Calligraphic Brushwork
Cf. Autumn Colors

Dwelling in the Qingbian Mountains, 1366

Wang Meng (1308-1385), one of the "Four Masters" of the late Yuan period

Dwelling in the Qingbian Mountains, 1366

Subject is a scholarís retreat in the mountains

Inscription (text and calligraphy) by the artist

Cf. Northern Song Landscape

Calligraphic Brushwork:
"Writing Ideas"

Yuan Dynasty Painting

Upheavals in politics and society deeply affect the art world

While professional artists continue to fill a small niche, literati painting becomes the most influential style

Ming Dynasty

1368 - 1644


Long-lasting, stable period under native rule

Court academy re-established

China is dominant power in world trade

Many merchants enriched by trade

General wealth increases

Increase in economic centers

Art patronage widens

Artists respond to meet the demand of different patrons with different tastes, resulting in diverse styles

Diverse Styles

Zhe School (Style)

School: artists grouped together by historians because they share certain characteristics

Independent professional painters

Wu School (Style)

[Court Artists]

Zhe School

Professional painters centered in Zhejiang Province, near Hangzhou (the old Southern Song capital)

Revitalized Southern Song academy styles


Large powerful decorative forms

Dramatic compositions

Brushwork also recalls Yuan dynasty literati painting

Compression of space


Hermit Resting by a Stream, 15th c.

Artist Dai Jin (1388-1462)

Born into a family of craftsmen

Gained an appointment as a court painter during the reign of the second Ming emperor

A versatile painter who found roots in diverse sources, such as Southern Song academy and Yuan literati styles

Responsible for the establishment of the Southern Song academy style as the official Ming court style

Hermit Resting by a Stream, 15th c.

Style shows its Southern Song sources:

Large brushwork using the side of the brush

Slightly asymmetrical composition


Independent Professionals

Professional painters who stand between the Zhe School painters and the literati painters

Many active in the Suzhou area, a center of wealth and private patronage


Tried to conform to literati aesthetic standards

Interest in Tang and Song styles

Innovations in subject matter


Compression of space


Beggars and Street Characters, 1516

Artist Zhou Chen (active early 16th c.)

Leading Suzhou professional painter

Specialty was polished figure-in-landscape painting emulating the court painters

Painter of breadth and originality, especially in narrative and genre subjects


Beggars and Street Characters, 1516

Handscroll with over 20 figures

Innovative subject: full spectrum of the urban street

Sketchy, direct, expressionistic, documentary

Interpreted as political commentary

Murmuring Pines in a Mountain Path, ca. 1500

Artist Tang Yin (1470-1523)

Pupil of Zhou Chen

Prodigy in scholarship and the arts

Became embroiled in a cheating scandal at the national examinations

Returned home, forced to live on his wits and his connections

Responded to the urban marketplace for art

Murmuring Pines in a Mountain Path, ca. 1500

Recreates the monumental Northern Song compositions of Fan Kuan and others

Inscribed with the artistís adaptation of a Tang dynasty poem that had inspired a famous Song dynasty painter

Poem provides a narrative focus

Brushwork indicates the artistís interest in Southern Song academy as well as Yuan dynasty literati styles


Wu School

Scholar-artists active in the Suzhou area (Wu)

Practiced painting as a means of personal expression


Traced artistic heritage back to the Tang and Song literati masters

Poetry and calligraphy integrated with painting

Opposed to realism

Compression of space


Poet on a Mountaintop, ca. 1500

Artist Shen Zhou (1427-1509)

Typical of Suzhou educated amateur artist

Independently wealthy: free to pursue literature and art

Subjects were mostly familiar scenic and historic places

Poet on a Mountaintop, ca. 1500

Often worked in multi-leaf albums devoted to a single theme

Theme of this album concerns departure and return (reflecting importance of travel, sociability, and long separations to elite lifestyles)

Poet on a Mountaintop, ca. 1500

White clouds like a belt encircle the mountainís waist

A stone ledge flying into space and the far thin road

I lean alone on my bramble staff and gazing contented into space

Wish the sounding torrent would answer to your flute


The Qingbian Mountains, 1617

Artist Dong Qichang (1555-1636)

Dominant figure in the late Ming

Leading calligrapher and authority on painting

Extremely influential

The Qingbian Mountains, 1617

Summary of his beliefs

Painting is an expression of inner reality

Landscape painting should not compete with real landscape

Success requires study and assimilation of the styles of the Song and Yuan masters

Advocated art-historical art based on the study of paintings rather than nature

Criticism of Late Ming Painting

Advocated Study of Song and Yuan Masters

Influenced by Western Art (?)


Qing Dynasty

1644 - 1911


Advent of another foreign government was less disruptive to political and cultural life

Manchu rulers devoted themselves to understanding and absorbing Chinese culture

Two Main Styles Influenced by the Ideas of Dong Qichang

Orthodox School

Literati painters who continued the ideas of Dong Qichang

Free interpretations of earlier styles

Concentrated on brushwork and organization of forms


Exemplified the ideas of Dong Qichang

Wide variety of styles

Painted in personal ways, adhering to no system

Applied techniques of calligraphy to painting

White Clouds over Xiao and Xiang, 17th c.

Artist Wang Jian (1598-1677), one of the four major artists of the Orthodox style

Most were high officials or wealthy collectors who had direct access to original Song and Yuan paintings

Spring on the Min River, 1697

Artist Yuan-Ji (1641-1707)

Ming imperial relative who was one of the "Ming loyalists" opposed to Manchu rule

Began a wandering life as a Buddhist monk and artist

Advocated a style that opposed the art-historical Orthodox School

Challenged traditions and rules

Fresh colors

Unstructured ink effects

Unconventional composition and brushwork