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Chronology of China


IV. The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

After the An Lushan Rebellion destroyed the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty, the unified empire slit into several small states again in 907 A.D. In the Central Plain area of China, 5 states succeeded one another and, more than a dozen states, referred to as the Ten Kingdoms, were established. The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period had lasted only for 53 years, however, in the Chinese art history, it was a transforming period and played an important role as connecting link between the preceding and the following. Overall the figure painting had changed from Tang Dynasty's meticulous, bold, and magnanimous style to a sparse, graceful and leisure, and simple and elegant vogue, its expression was more abundant, while the landscape painting and flower-and-bird painting were more matured with various styles.

Figure painting in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms had continued Tang Dynasty's charm, but was more delicate in the depiction of figures' manner and their inner world.

The paintings of nobles and court ladies were getting matured, among which the existing "Han Xizai Gives A Night Banquet" is a masterpiece in the whole Chinese figure painting history. Han Xizai was an official at the ministry of public works as well as an editor of the imperial history in the Southern Tang Dynasty. He often organized banquet at his place to enjoy entertainment and culture, however, it was also said that as an official from the north, Han just pretended to be unambitious to protect himself from the suspicious Southern Tang rulers. After ascended the throne, the new ruler Li Houzhu (Li Yu) wanted to trust Han Xizai with major responsibilities, but before that, in order to verify what the real Han Xizai is, Li Houzhu commanded the court painters Gu Hongzhong and Zhou Wenju joined the banquet at Han Xizai's place to observe the party, and to paint it down afterwards by memories. The existing painting was created by Gu Hongzhong. It contains five scenes which are interrelated while relatively independent to each other, and with Gu's elegant stroke and harmonious coloring, the characters and atmosphere of the banquet was well captured and presented. Interestingly, in this painting the major character Han Xizai did not seem to enjoy the entertainment in front of him, which implied that the rumors was true, and made the painting fraught with political overtones. The other painter who was commanded to paint the banquet was Zhou Wenju, whose painting of this banquet was lost unfortunately. Zhou Wenju was good at painting noble and literati's life. He walked in the same way that Zhou Fang (Tang Dynasty painter) did but his style is more slender and gorgeous. He was influenced by Li Houzhu's calligraphy strokes (Li Houzhu was also a famous calligrapher in Chinese art history), so the lines of winkles he painted was thin, hard, and fluttering, which resulted in the so-called "fluttering lines". The representative painting of Zhou Wenju is the "Playing Go In Front Of Screens", depicting the scene when the Zhongzhu of Southern Tang Li Jing was playing go with his three brothers - since this kind of brothers in harmony was a typical image that the emperors would like to set up. At the time there also appeared in large quantity paintings that depict lives of literati and scholars, ones that are extant include Wei Xian's "The Noble Scholar" and Wang Qihan's "Collating Texts".

 Han Xizai Gives A Night Banquet, Gu Hongzhong

The saddle-and-horse painting flourished in Tang Dynasty had famous followers in the Five Dynasties as well. Zhao Yan, the bridegroom martial official in the Later Liang Dynasty, had a remnant of Cao Ba and Han Gan. He was good at grasping the relationship between horses and riders, as well as the instantaneous mood of them, to make his horses and riders out of the ordinary. Zhao Yan's existing works include "Eight Worthies Strolling the Spring" and "Training Horses". The Later Tang Dynasty Khitan painter Hu Gui was an unaccustomed ethnic minority painter in Chinese painting history, whose painting possesses a raw energy and a bold honest style which was seldom seen in central China. He was adept at painting the northern nomadic life and foreign horses, thoroughly presenting the particular flavour of the barren land outside the Great Wall. These features can be found in his painting "A Rest after Hunting" and "Foreign Horses".

The monk painter Guan Xiu who was skilled in arhats, and Shi Ke, who was expert in Buddhist figures and Taoist figures, were two special painters in the Five Dynasties. With bold and unconstrained brushstrokes, Guan Xiu liked to create arhat with a stalwart body and an ancient face, as if they were Brahman. The "Sixteen Arhats" collected by the Tokyo Imperial Palace is an important resource to understand Guan Xiu's painting style, and the painters influenced by him include the Ming Dynasty painter Chen Hongshou and others. With simple but freely brushstrokes, the figures created by Shi Ke were secluded and strange. Taking his "Two Patriarchs Zen in Contemplation" as an example, both figures are somewhere between alike and not alike to the subject, starting the trend of stroke-minus figure painting style that was followed by Liang Kai in the Southern Song Dynasty.

The landscape painters in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period learned from nature, and brought forth innovations both in technique and artistic conception. More significant progress was made in this genre than in figure painting. The ink landscape, which emerged in the Tang Dynasty, had gradually became the mainstream of landscape painting, and two schools of it were formed - the northern school and the southern school respectively.

Jing Hao and Guan Tong were two masters of the northern school. An aversion to the turmoil of his era led the Later Liang Dynasty painter Jing Hao to retire to seclusion in the northern Taihang Mountains, where he observed and painted the magnificent northern mountains, spending the greater portion of his life in the pursuit of artistic development. His painting was therefore as magnificent and grandiose as the northern mountains and rivers themselves. Building on the approach initially pioneered by his predecessors, Jing employed in his landscapes a mixture of atmospheric ink washes and bold brushstrokes to accurately transcribe the artistic effect. His surviving work and a masterpiece in the landscape painting history is "Mount Kuanglu", which gives a rather panoramic rendering of majesty of the mountain with a rigorous structure. This painting indicates the discipline of "three perspectives"(the perspectives of height, width and depth) and provides plentiful details that all like nature itself. As a pupil of Jing Hao, Guan Tong's landscape paintings achieved a believable and compelling portrayal of the natural world as well. Guan was good at the autumn mountains and cold forests, the village life and river, the recluse, the fisherman, the market, and so on. When he became as famous as Jing Hao, people started to call them "Jing and Guan". The mountain and river Guan Tong painted is simple but vivid, while the trees he painted have branches but without trunks. In the "Xuanhe Painting Manual", Guan Tong's painting was described as "the simpler his brushstroke is, the stronger his vigor is; the fewer his scene is, the deeper his artistic conception is." In his old age, his brushstroke became even stronger and sharper, and he was even described as more popular than his teacher Jing Hao. "Waiting for Crossing the Stream" and "Travelers at the Mountain Pass" are believed to be Guan's works, and the style presented in them was called "Guan's Landscapes".

As the founders of the Southern style of landscape painting, Dong Yuan together with his pupil Juran painted the rolling hills and rivers of their native countryside in peaceful scenes. The Southern Tang Dynasty painter Dong Yuan created a horizontal, level-distance landscape format, reminding viewer the real Jiangnan (southern China) landscape. With techniques like Pima Cun (a brushstroke looks like loose and scattered linens overlapping to each other) and Moss-dotting method (a skill to paint moss or weeds with dots) combined in his paintings, rather than the more traditional sharp brushworks, Dong Yuan's landscape doesn't appear like the real thing if you take a close look, but the scenery seems real if you enjoy it from a distance; in color using he absorbed the achievement of both the blue and green landscape painting as well as the ink landscape, to express the atmosphere of cloudy hills that suggest the mist and rain of the southern China's landscapes. The "Suburban Excursion" and "The Xiao and Xiang Rivers" exemplified his elegant style which would become the standard for landscape painting in China for the next centuries. Yuan Dynasty painter Huang Gongwang said, "If you want to paint landscape, you must learn from Dong Yuan, as if you want to write poem you must learn from Du Fu." The monk painter Juran, who as a pupil actually learned from Dong, was good at painting Jiangnan with mist view and soft brushstrokes as well. His works include "Seeking the Tao in Autumn Mountains" and "Storied Mountains and Dense Forests".


In the flower-and-bird painting realm, the Western Shu (West Sichuan) painter Huang Quan and Jiangnan painter Xu Xi represented the two different schools of the Five Dynasties. As a court painter, Huang Quan held an important position in the Imperial Art Academy in the Western Shu, thus what he saw and what he painted were mostly the rare birds bred in the imperial palace. Huang used the meticulous re-color brushwork to outline the subjects first with slender brushstrokes, and then layered bright colors on them, until the ink lines were almost covered totally. The birds Huang Quan created plump and gorgeous as if they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, which made them very popular among the nobles. Huang Quan's painting therefore was known as "Huang's wealthy style". His extant work include "Studies from Nature: Birds and Insects". By contrast, although Xu Xi was born in an aristocratic family in Jiangnan area, his painting style was wild and free. He used Luomo method (a painting method innovated by Xu Xi) to paint the butterflies, insects and birds. In Xu's painting, colors never covered the ink outlining, but in a secondary status to emphasize the ink outlining. His rough brushstrokes captured the creatures look in a particular way, which was called "Xu's wild and free style".


To Play Chess with Friends, Zhou Wenju

In the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, the development in different regions was not balanced. The Central Plains, West Sichuan and Southern Tang were more peaceful and prosperous than other regions, so painting in the three regions was the most developed consequently. According to art history book "The record of Illustration and Traditional Chinese Painting", the nobles in Later Liang Dynasty loved to enlist the service of painters, and in Later Tang regime, along with the fleeing of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang to Chengdu to escape from An Lushan's Rebellion, and Emperor Xizong of Tang's dying in Sichuan of Huang Chao's Rebellion, many painters moved to Sichuan in the meantime. In a subsequent passage in "Famous Painters of Yizhou", there were 58 painters resided in Chengdu area from the end of Tang Dynasty to the beginning of the Song Dynasty. The Zhongzhu of Southern Tang Dynasty Li Jing and the Houzhu of Southern Tang Dynasty Li Yu were both painters and calligraphers themselves. They assembled painters into their palace and ordered them to paint with assigned subject. In the Western Sichuan and the Southern Tang, painters served the court all the time in the specially established imperial academy of painting and calligraphy, which was the precedent for the prosperity of court painting in the Northern Song Dynasty later.














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