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Article

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 ...

Article

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....

Article

Chinese, 11th century, male.

Activec.1070-1080.

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 ...

Article

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.

Article

Kukai  

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....

Article

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....

Article

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 (...

Article

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....

Article

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 ...

Article

Noami  

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 ...

Article

Chinese, 11th century, male.

Born 1007, in Luling (Jiangxi); died 1072.

Art theorist.

Ouyang Xiu was a famous statesman, known as a man of letters and an aesthetician. As with many men of letters, his writings turn to art criticism when dealing with the many inscriptions he selected for the ...

Article

Chinese, 14th century (?), male.

Active either during the Song dynasty (960-1279), or during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368).

Art writer.

We know nothing of Rao Ziran other than that he is the author of a short critical essay entitled the Huizong Shier Ji...

Article

Chinese, 11th century, male.

Born 1031; died 1095.

Art lover, art critic.

After a brilliant career as an official, diplomat and soldier, Shen Gua wrote a monumental work of scholarship, the Address of the Stream of Dreams ( Mengqi Bitan), a veritable Summa of human knowledge encompassing fields as varied as history, politics, music, astrology and astronomy, arts and letters, mathematics, technology and archaeology. This work of genius is not merely a compilation of the works of others but the fruit of original creative thought by an observer, inventor and philosopher. Book 17 is devoted to painting and calligraphy and contains a famous passage in which Sheng Gua comes to the defence of pictorial creation as an autonomous art free from all vulgar concerns of likeness or verisimilitude. ‘The wonderful parts (or the mystery) of calligraphy and painting must be realised by the soul; they can hardly be discovered in mere forms,’ says Sirén. ‘Those who look at paintings are always able to point out faults of form, of likeness, of design and colouring, but I have seldom found people who have penetrated into the mysterious reason and depth of creative activity.... This is because his (the artist Wang Wei’s) creative activity and his reason resided in the spiritual part of his nature and because he grasped to the highest degree the idea (inspiration of Heaven). But this is hard to explain to common people.’...

Article

Chinese, 14th century, male.

Born 1310; died 1381.

Art lover, scholar, art critic.

Song Lian was a historian, man of letters and art critic. He is best known as the editor of the History of the Yuan Dynasty. He also published an essay entitled Origin of Painting...

Article

Su Shi  

Chinese, 11th century, male.

Born 1036, in Meishan (Sichuan); died 1101.

Calligrapher, poet, painter.

Be it literature, politics, poetry, calligraphy or painting, the name of Su Shi was linked with every area of cultural activity of his day. This prestigious figure was one of the most human and appealing in Chinese humanism. A scholar, he was also a politician who shared the struggles of his contemporaries; a high official, but also a refined aesthete who cultivated all the arts, conversed with scholars, monks and courtesans and enjoyed music, all types of literature, calligraphy and painting, of which he was a master....

Article

Chinese, 14th century, male.

Active during the first third of the 14th century.

Art historian, art theorist, art critic.

Tang Hou was the author of two works, the Gu Jin Hua Jin, a critical assessment of the work of some 60 artists from the period of the Three Kingdoms (...

Article

Chinese, 15th century, male.

Born 1423, in Jiashan, now Ningbo (Zhejiang); died 1495.

Painter, calligrapher, poet.

Yao Shou was the son of Yao Fu, a collector of calligraphy and paintings. He passed the national triennial examinations with the grade jinshi (accepted scholar) in the reign of Emperor Tanshun (...

Article

Chinese, 9th century, male.

Born c. 810; died c. 880.

Art critic, art historian, collector.

The scion of an illustrious line of officials, Zhang Yanyuan probably took his first steps as an art historian in his family’s own rich collections. He wrote a monumental work of art history, the ...