NEW YORK, NY.-
Drawn entirely from the extensive resources of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
, Arts of the Ming Dynasty: China's Age of Brilliance will present a grand array of works of art created during one of the most celebrated dynasties in Chinese history. Featuring 80 paintings and calligraphies, including masterpieces by Xie Huan (act. mid-15th century) and Chen Hongshou (15991652), the exhibition will examine various artistic styles, highlighting the distinctive innovations of many of the leading painters of the time. The works will be complemented by a selection of textiles, ceramics, lacquers, cloisonné, jades, and bamboo carvings, which will showcase the material prosperity experienced during the period.
The Ming dynasty (13681644)whose name aptly translates as "brilliant"was a period of native Chinese rule between the fall of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (12601368) and the rise of the Manchu Qing dynasty (16441911). The early Ming period was a time of cultural restoration and expansion. In an attempt to restore native artistic traditions, Song dynasty (9601279) pictorial traditions were revived and adapted by court artists to suit the new decorative and didactic needs of the Ming emperors. The period was also among the most glorious in Chinese ceramic history. But the second half of the dynasty was weakened by capricious and incompetent rulers. Many government officials chose to retire early to take up poetry, calligraphy, or painting, often working in a garden setting similar to the Metropolitan's Astor Court, which is modeled on a scholars' court in Suzhou.
The exhibition will be organized by the following themes: "The Return of the Academy," "Literati Artists," and "The Late Ming: An Expanding Literati Culture."
The Return of the Academy
The exhibition will open with exquisite 14th to 15th-century paintings produced by court artists, emulating the masters of the Song Imperial Painting Academy. Under Emperor Xuande (r. 142635), a rigorous and systematic structure of recruitment, examination, and promotion was instituted that attracted talented artists from across the empire for many decades. A remarkable example on view from this period is Elegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden (ca. 1437) attributed to Xie Huan. Depicting some of the most powerful officials in China at the time, it demonstrates the preference of the Chinese elite to be shown engaged in refined cultural pursuits rather than with the trappings of political power. With the accession of the 15-year-old Jiajing emperor (r. 152266), the fortunes of the academy declined, and within a few years there were no distinguished painters in court service. The entire academic painting institution came to a virtual halt about 1530.
While professional painters followed the representational tradition of the Song dynasty, literati artists developed the calligraphic idiom of the Yuan dynasty. After the 15th century, there was a decline in imperial patronage, and both literati and professional artists, as well as craftsmen in other media, began to seek support from powerful patrons, including prosperous merchants. One outstanding example of this is an album depicting sites in the Garden of the Inept Politician, painted by Wen Zhengming (14701559) for a retired government official.
The Late Ming: An Expanding Literati Culture
Throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries, political weakness at court and rapid economic and commercial expansion in the south brought social change and artistic innovation to China. A highly literate artistic community produced works to meet the demands of wealthy officials and upwardly mobile merchants. The styles and themes of the art of this period were largely molded by the tastes of the literati. A superb example in the exhibition is an album leaf painting from Figures, Flowers, and Landscapes by Chen Hongshou depicting a drunken scholar, a self-image of the despondent artist, who failed the government examinations.
By the late 16th century, several issues in the evolution of art theory had crystallized, including the imitation of past artistic styles versus innovative self-expression and the codification of ancient techniques. Dong Qichang (15551636) sought to resolve these often conflicting issues in his writings, which led to the systematic formulation of a theory and practice of literati painting. Dong's ink painting entitled Shaded Dwellings among Streams and Mountains will be included in the exhibition.
Arts of the Ming Dynasty is organized by Maxwell K. Hearn, Curator in the Department of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum.