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Chinese, 12th century, male.

Painter, critic.

Song dynasty.

Deng Chun was a scholar-official who came to know painting at a very young age thanks to his family’s extensive art collection. He was the author of the most important history of art of the Southern Song dynasty, the ...


Japanese, 14th – 15th century, male.

Born 1363 or 1370, probably in Yamashiro; died 23 June 1452, in Kyoto.

Monk-painter, poet.

Gukyoku Reisai was a Zen monk-painter who lived at the Kencho-ji in Kamakura and Nanzen-ji in Kyoto, and in later years headed the Tofuku-ji in Kyoto. He was a skilled calligrapher and painter of Buddhist subjects, being particularly interested in the figures of Tenjin and Monju, whom he painted in ink in rapid brushstrokes....


Chinese, 11th century, male.


Art theorist.

Guo Ruoxu was the author of the most important work on the history of art of the Northern Song period, the Tu Hua Jian Wen zhi (1074), which saw itself as the continuation of the monumental treatise by Zhang Yanyuan, the ...


Chinese, 16th century, male.

Painter, poet.

An official, He Liangjun is the author of the Siyouzhai Hualun, a treatise on painting (c. 1530), an unoriginal collection of some 50 disjunctive texts, some taken from other authors, of merely documentary interest.



Japanese, 8th – 9th century, male.

Born 774, in Boyobugaura; died 22 April 835.

Painter, calligrapher, poet.

Kukai was a priest and founder of Shingon (‘true word’) esoteric Buddhism in Japan. He is best known as Kobo Daishi (‘propagator of the Dharma’), his posthumous name. He founded temples in Nara on Mount Koya and the Toji temple complex outside Kyoto. After a lengthy visit to China, Kukai brought back techniques that were to have an important influence on the birth of Japanese art....


Chinese, 16th century, male.

Active after 1530.

Scholar, art critic.

Li Kaixian was a famous scholar and official who wrote a work of art criticism, Zhonglu huapin, in which he used critical classifications that did not derive from tradition. Instead of drawing up a hierarchical classification, he looked at artists from a series of different viewpoints, using six qualities and four failings as a common yardstick by which to judge them all. He also showed great boldness and daring in his judgements, rating Ming painting higher than Yuan, and defending the Zhe school against the Wu school, judgements considered so outrageous that during the Ming and Qing dynasties he was regarded as uttely incompetent....


Lian An  

Chinese, 14th – 15th century, male.

Died at the beginning of the 15th century.

Art theorist.

Lian An is known above all for a brief but famous passage on aesthetic theory in his Jinchuan Yuxie Ji, a posthumous collection of his writings. The passage is a commentary on the distinction made by Su Dongpo (...


Michael Curschmann

The medieval term mappa mundi (also forma mundi, historia/istoire) covers a broad array of maps of the world of which roughly 1100 survive. These have resisted systematic classification, but the clearly dominant type is one that aims at comprehensively symbolistic representation. Its early, schematic form is a disc composed of three continents surrounded and separated from one another by water (“T-O Map”) and associated with the three sons of Noah: Asia (Shem) occupies all of the upper half, Europe (Japhet) to the left and Africa (Ham) to the right share the lower half. Quadripartite cartographic schemes included the antipodes as a fourth continent, but the tripartite model was adopted by the large majority of the more developed world maps in use from the 11th century on and—with important variations—well into the Renaissance. While details were added as available space permitted, the Mediterranean continued to serve as the vertical axis and, with diminishing clarity, the rivers Don and Nile as the horizontal one. The map also continues to be ‘oriented’ towards Asia, where paradise sits at the very top. A circular ocean forms the perimeter and not infrequently the city of Jerusalem constitutes its centre....


Ni Zan  

Chinese, 14th century, male.

Born 1301, in Wuxi (Jiangsu); died 1374.

Painter, calligrapher, poet. Landscapes.

Although the Mongol occupation of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) marked a long period of humiliation in Chinese history, it was also a period when the arts underwent an extraordinary renaissance. This is because many cultured administrators found themselves freed of any administrative or political concerns and, retreating to self-imposed isolation, had enough leisure to cultivate matters of the spirit: calligraphy, poetry and painting. Beyond the reaches of academic imperialism and the official arbiters of good taste, painting became again an activity for refined amateurs and returned to the notion of ...



Japanese, 15th century, male.

Born 1397; died 1471.

Painter, poet, calligrapher.

Noami was a student of Shubun. He painted in the suiboku style (Chinese style), oversaw an inventory of the Ashikaga shogun’s collection of Chinese art and is traditionally known as Japan’s first art historian. He was also master of the tea ceremony, master of the incense and a warrior. He painted landscapes, animals and flowers in a pleasant style. His style was less influenced by the Chinese aesthetic as time went on, but was nevertheless different from the cursive style that his contemporaries tended to adopt. His most talented followers were his son Geiami and his grandson Soami, who together constituted the ...