“Chinese Master Paintings from the Collection” highlights some of the most rarefied masterpieces from the Chinese painting canon.
Two themes emerge from the exhibition. First, the exhibition presents a concentration of imperial works, including the Thirteen Emperors scroll from the Tang dynasty (618-907), considered the oldest court painting in existence, together with paintings and calligraphy personally created or commissioned by four generations of Song emperors. The nature of their manufacture and commission, as well as their meanings beyond the immediate pictorial content are discussed in the exhibition. Secondly, key works from the show demonstrate highly sophisticated use of literary text in close conjunction with images, representing some of the earliest instances of such integration in the Chinese tradition.
A perfect example that embodies both themes is the exquisite Five-Colored Parakeet (detail above). Emperor Huizong (1082-1135) painted the composition with an accompanying poem composed and inscribed in his distinctive calligraphy. The famous emperor’s prodigious talent, luxurious taste, and high sophistication were only matched by his spectacular and tragic end. The Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) fell to nomadic invaders from the north, where Huizong spent his final years as a prisoner. The emperor’s fate is particularly poignant as we contemplate this painting created at the height of his power. As his inscription makes clear, the parakeet is not just any ordinary bird, but an exotic tribute “from far away.” The bird’s presence in the imperial garden is commemorated here as an “auspicious sign” from Heaven, an endorsement of Huizong’s enlightened rule.