First Maturation – Accumulation of Subjects and Styles
The Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) saw a vast growth in painting techniques and motifs. A much admired painting subject were horses, who played an important role in the Tang dynasty expansion, and were thus a common subject. Figure painting was another renowned topic and included not only religious motifs, but also depictions of historical events or narrative illustrations. Pictures of beautiful women, especially court ladies, were common in the Tang dynasty, glorifying their beauty and praising their virtues. The 8th century, however, saw a growing trend towards birds, flowers and landscapes. Especially scholar painters, who painted in their free time, wanted to distinguish themselves from court painters, who worked for money and whose main works included figures or portraits. Thus, topics as flowers or landscapes became popular among scholar painters, although figure painting was never completely abandoned.
Art Becomes Classic – Blurring of Boundaries Between Academic and Amateur Painting in China
The end of Mongol rule and the re-establishment of an indigenous Chinese emperor in 1368 led to a revival of the Imperial Academy and the painting styles of the Southern Song (960-1279 CE) and the Yuan (1271-1368 CE) Dynasties. Some painters picked up the painting style of the Southern Song Dynasty, especially that of the Ma-Xia-School. Others continued the tradition of bird-and-flower painting from the times of Emperor Huizong. Other artists brought colors back into picture and revived the blue-and-green painting style of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). Since most of the Academy painters came from the Zhejiang province, they were named the “Zhe school”. The most notable painter of the Zhe School was Dai Jin. Their counterpart, literati painters from the Wu region in Suzhou, continued in the more expressive and individual styles of the Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty. They are known as the “Wu school”, of whom Shen Zhou is best known for his eclecticism and ability to paint in the styles of former masters. Although this two main currents in painting existed, the boundaries between academic and amateur painters blurred – not in stylistic terms, but in attitude, mostly when some literati, who had devoted themselves to nothing else but painting, started to accept money for their works, which had been not the case in earlier centuries.