Liang Kai (c. 1140 – c. 1210), also known as “Madman Liang”, was born in Dongping, Shandong province, and is one of the most famous painters of the Song Dynasty. There is not many information about his life, but it is known that he studied painting with fellow painter Jai Shigu and was ranked Painter-in-Attendance at the Imperial Painting Academy in Hangzhou, where he was awarded the Golden Girdle, an honorable distinction. For reasons unknown, he quit the Academy to study Chan Buddhism. His works are simple, yet powerful paintings, which are thoroughly connected to the principles of Chan Buddhism – spontaneity, individuality and immediacy.
Confucianism is not a religion, but a philosophy which was and still is immensely important for the political and ethical system of China. It is rooted in the teachings of Confucius and is together with Daoism and Buddhism one of the three great philosophies of China. It was developed around 500 BCE and influences Chinese society and culture until today.
A Brief Biography of Mu Xi (牧溪/Mu Hsi/Muqi/Fachang)
Not many information about Mu Xi exists, although it is commonly accepted that he was born in the Sichuan province around 1200 and later lived near the capital Hangzhou. We don’t know anything about his family, childhood or education, except that he was probably tutored by Liang Kai and the abbot Wuzhun Shifan. Mu Xi was a Chan Buddhist monk and lived in the Liutong Temple at the West Lake beginning from 1215. The monastery was without any doubt a place for Japanese pilgrims who came to China to study Chan Buddhism and came into contact with Mu Xi’s works.
When Ma Yuan was born in Qiantang (today’s Hangzhou in the Zhejiang province) around the middle of the 12th century, he could look back on a long family history. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father all had served as painters in attendance to the Song emperors, and he himself, as well as his own son Ma Lin, would pursue this tradition.
The Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE) was as the time when painting bloomed. Besides birds and flowers, plants and animals and figure painting, landscapes became an independent topic in painting. The Chinese characters for landscape painting, pronounced “shanshui” (山水), literally means “mountains and rivers”, alluding to the two most important elements in a landscape painting. It had always been a subject in art, but had always played an inferior role until the 10th century, when new concepts arose.